A secondary survivor is someone who knows someone close to them whom experienced sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, or stalking. This could be your child, sibling, spouse, significant other, parent, coworker, or friend, who was victimized. You have been affected, too.
As a secondary victim of a sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, or stalking it is important to know how to be supportive and also how to take care of your own feelings. Whatever feelings you have are justifiable – you have a right to your feelings. Know that it’s okay for you to need help. You have been traumatized by what has happened to your loved one. Getting help will enable you to be strong for your loved one and for yourself.
Central MN Sexual Assault Center (CMSAC) and Anna Marie’s Alliance (AMA) provides free services to secondary victims as well as the victim themselves! Many of CMSAC’s and AMA’s services available to primary survivors are also available to secondary survivors.
Contact Central MN Sexual Assault Center at their 24 hour crisis line at 320-251-4357 or go to their website at www.cmsac.org.
Contact Anna Marie’s Alliance at their 24 hour crisis line at 320-253-6900 or go to their website at www.annamaries.org.
One of the most important things that a secondary victim or loved one can do is to believe the victim. Victim-blaming attitudes are one of the main barriers to getting help and place victim/survivors in greater danger.
What Does Victim Blaming Look Like?
From Avoiding Victim Blaming – Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness & Action (stoprelationshipabuse.org)
Common Victim Blaming Statements:
- “The victim provoked him”;
- “They both have problems”;
- “The victim shouldn’t have married him after”;
- “The victim was drunk”;
- “They can’t be abused, because they are in an LGBTQI+ relationship”;
Example of Victim-Blaming Attitude:
“She must have provoked him into being abusive. They both need to change.”
Reality: This statement assumes that the victim is equally to blame for the abuse, when in reality, abuse is a conscious choice made by the abuser. Abusers have a choice in how they react to their partner’s actions. Options besides abuse include: walking away, talking in the moment, respectfully explaining why an action is frustrating, breaking up, etc. Additionally, abuse is not about individual actions that incite the abuser to hurt the victim/survivor, but rather about the abuser’s feelings of entitlement to do whatever the abuser wants to their partner. When friends and family remain neutral about the abuse and say that both people need to change, they are taking away responsibility from the perpetrator, thereby colluding with/supporting the abusive partner and making it less likely that the survivor will seek support.
Victim Blaming in Language
One of the biggest sources of victim blaming is the way we talk about it. Language surrounding abuse and sexual assault immediately puts our attention on the victim instead of the perpetrator. This is a demonstration developed by Julia Penelope and frequently used by Jackson Katz to show how language can be victim blaming:
- John beat Mary; This sentence is written in active voice. It is clear who is committing the violence.
- Mary was beaten by John; The sentence has been changed to passive voice, so Mary comes first.
- Mary was beaten; Notice that John is removed from the sentence completely. Our attention is completely focused on Mary.
- Mary is a battered woman; Being a battered woman is now part of Mary’s identity. John is not a part of the statement, and he will not be held accountable for his choice to abuse.
As you can see, the focus has shifted entirely to Mary instead of John, encouraging the audience to focus on the survivor’s actions instead of the perpetrator’s actions. The solutions regarding prevention become focused on what Mary can do differently, not on what John can do differently, and not on how society creates a culture that supports John’s behavior.
Supporting Loved Ones Experiencing Stalking
From The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center | SPARC (stalkingawareness.org)
Most victims of stalking talk to a friend, family member, or someone else they know and trust about the situation before pursuing any sort of professional or legal help. If a stalking victim talks to you, your response makes a huge difference in if they feel validated and/or seek help.
These tips can help you respond:
Believe and validate victims.
- Don’t question or minimize what they tell you.
- For example, don’t say “well maybe they just miss you” or “they probably didn’t realize it was bothering you.”
- Instead, say “that sounds scary” or “I can see why that would be upsetting.”
Focus on the offender’s actions, not the victim’s responses.
- Even well-intentioned friends can accidentally blame victims.
- Don’t ask questions such as “why did you respond to that text message?”
- Focus on the stalker’s actions, for instance, “It is not right that they kept texting you.”
- Nothing the victim did justifies the stalker’s behavior.
— Remind victims that this is not their fault.
Support the victim and encourage them to seek help and document the stalking.
- Thank them for trusting you enough to have the conversation.
- Help the victim think through options – like learning more about stalking on the SPARC website, reaching out to local service providers, or calling police.
— Victims may or may not want to take action. Respect their choices.
Respect the victim’s privacy.
- Do not share any information about the victim with the stalker.
- Ask the victim who else they have told and respect their wishes about who to share this information with.
- Refer them to resources to make an individual safety plan and learn more about stalking.
- Victim Connect. VictimConnect.org. 855-4-VICTIM. Victim Connect can refer victims to local services.
- CoerciveControl.org A free, research-based assessment – the Stalking & Harassment Assessment and Risk Profile (SHARP) – can help victims determine the risk in their situation and provides suggestions for safety