What To Say When Someone Tells You They've Been Sexually Assaulted Or Harassed

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
There's a good chance you saw someone you know post the hashtag #MeToo on social media this weekend. In response to the growing number of women coming forward about Harvey Weinstein, people have been using #MeToo as a way to share their own experiences with sexual assault and/or harassment, and to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," as Alyssa Milano wrote on Twitter.
Using the simple hashtag gives people an opportunity to share their experiences without disclosing all the details of what happened to them, which can be empowering for some people, says Rachel Goldsmith, LCSW-R, associate vice president for the Domestic Violence Shelter Programs at Safe Horizon. "But I want to caution us not to think better or worse of someone who chooses not to participate in this," Goldsmith says. And as people on Twitter have pointed out, just because someone posted #MeToo, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're ready to share their whole story. "It's important that survivors are given choices to do what they want to and disclose when they choose to in their lives," Goldsmith says.
Of course, it can be jarring to see people you know — friends, family members, distant acquaintances, coworkers — coming forward about their experiences with sexual assault or harassment on social media. "It's not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they've experienced sexual assault or harassment, especially if that person is a friend or loved one," says Sara McGovern, a spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
So, ahead are some tips from Goldsmith and McGovern for how to handle the tough but important conversations sparked by #MeToo.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).