Responding to someone who’s told you they’re a sexual assault survivor

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Wednesday is dedicated to the Start by Believing campaign. Local advocates said your response to someone telling you about their assault is key. It can sometimes be the difference between them reporting the attack or not.

Advocates from Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Spokane Police know how important it is for people in our community to open the conversation about sexual assault. Which is why Wednesday, they held events around the area to help spark that talk and hopefully keep it going.

“When a survivor of sexual assault first reports – or discloses – it’s usually to friends or family,” said Ligeia DeVleming, program director for Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

It’s a conversation you hope to never have with someone you know.

“Our reaction is pivotal,” DeVleming said.

But one, advocates said, you need to be prepared for. Your reaction in that moment is critical.

“It can have a very negative impact on the survivor, their healing journey and can also increase the impacts of trauma,” DeVleming said.

Which is why the people who work with victims the most – advocates, police officers – want you to be educated on how to handle such a sensitive topic.

“The more information we get, the more educated, people are, the better chance that we can prevent these types of crimes,” said Sgt. Glenn Bartlett, Spokane Police Department SVU.

There were two events Wednesday – one at Spokane Community College and one at Sweet Frostings Blissful Bakeshop.

Sweet Frostings also created a teal ribbon cookie just for the event. The teal ribbon symbolizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Half the proceeds from the treats went directly to Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

At both, you could talk to police and advocates. You could also meet Walker, he’s a black Labrador trained to support trauma survivors.

These events were all in an effort to prevent assault and end social stigmas.

“For us to assume – well, they’re a college student or a young professional – that it didn’t happen to them is absolutely false. It can happen to anyone,” Sgt. Bartlett said.

If you want more information on sexual assault and how to speak to someone who’s confided in you about their assault, you can visit Start by Believing’s website.

Catch up on the day’s news and look ahead to tomorrow by signing up for the Daily Local email newsletter from KXLY4. Headlines, events, and staff picks every weeknight at 8 p.m. Sign up HERE to get your news on the D.L.