Recent revelations about sexual harassment have brought an opportunity for more survivors to speak up.
The actions of powerful men in Hollywood have been followed by discovery of sexual misconduct in many parts of American society. Amanda Waller is a crisis intervention specialist at Middle Way House, Bloomington's safe haven for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.
Waller said in an email interview that she hasn't seen particular effects of the Hollywood scandals with her clients. However, any societal discussion of sexual assault that avoids victim-blaming destigmatizes the topic and encourages survivors to come forward with their experiences, Waller said.
“I do know for a fact that the more survivors that come out and speak up about their experiences, the more survivors will feel safe and not alone to do the same thing," Waller said. "Whether that is at Middle Way House or with a trusted friend or family member.”
Even though more survivors have shared their stories after allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others surfaced, Waller said coming out with their stories might not be the best option for all survivors if they don't feel comfortable or safe doing so.
"We also do not advocate that all survivors of domestic or sexual violence go to the police or go through with filing charges if they do not want to or have other issues that may make doing this difficult or cause more problems," Waller said.
Middle Way House works under an empowerment model, offering resources to survivors to let them make informed decisions on what their best path might be, Waller said.
“We know that a person knows their experience and life best," Waller said. "We do our best to make sure a person has all they need to make an informed decision for themselves.”
Middle Way House has three legal advocates, including Heather Davis, who provide legal counseling to clients. Davis said in an email interview that the advocates attend court hearings with their clients, help them file divorce papers and protective orders and give them attorney referrals if necessary.
However, Davis said the biggest problem they face is finding their clients legal representation because there are only a few places in town that provide pro-bono work.
"When their case loads are full (and they fill up quickly) it is very hard to find our clients representation for either their divorce or protective order hearings," Davis said in an email interview.
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey’s 2010-2012 state report, an estimated half million people were victims of contact sexual violence by a current or former partner.
The NIPSVS defines contact sexual violence as “a combined measure that includes rape, being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion and/or unwanted sexual contact,” and estimates almost a million annual victims in Indiana between 2010 and 2012.
Waller said sexual assault can occur in different kinds of relationships in a person’s life. The perpetrator could be anyone from a partner or family member to a friend or acquaintance. The nature of every case determines the best path of action for each survivor.
Waller said healing from sexual violence is “long, complicated and can be very emotionally and physically exhausting.” For Middle Way House, the best way to support survivors is to believe their stories, despite personal perceptions of the person accused Waller said.
“The only way that survivors can be safe and empowered to seek out help when it comes to sexual violence is by knowing that the people around them and the people they go to will believe their story no matter what, and trust that the choices they make for their life are the right ones,” Waller said.
Davis said something anyone can do to help survivors is to listen, be empathetic and show compassion.
"Listening really does go a long way and means a lot to a survivor," Davis said.