With barrage of accusations, supporting survivors more important than ever

While survivors of sexual violence and women who’ve endured sexual harassment may feel a sense of validation and even empowerment as more women publicly share their stories, experts note those same accounts may bring others back to past traumas that are difficult to revisit --and trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The #MeToo movement reminds us we all know someone who’s faced sexual harassment or survived sexual assault. As more people are emboldened to go public with their stories, professionals suggest we be mindful of survivors in every arena of our lives, because the extent of a person's trauma can often rely on their experience the first time they break their silence.

"If [talking about it] is a good experience, they're likely going to be able to continue to process," Teri Walker McLaughlin, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said. "If it's not a good experience, they may bury it."

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 94 percent of the women who survive sexual violence experience symptoms of PTSD, like isolation, depression, hyper-vigilance and others.

"They're our friends, our neighbors and our loved ones--both the perpetrators and victims and survivors," Walker McLaughlin said. 

Experts, both here in the Twin Cities and across the country, say it’s important we listen intently and provide a safe space for survivors should they entrust us with their encounters. 

"[We want to] let them know that there's safety here and that we believe them because it's with great risk that people share their stories,” Walker McLaughlin said.

One of those risks is retaliation. Professionals tell Fox 9 sexual violence, in all it’s forms, is a power-based violence and that for anyone in a less-powerful position retaliation can be significant, career-ending and humiliating. The risk of retaliation is the prime reason many choose to remain silent.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you need support, please refer to the list of organizations below: