The holidays are story-telling time, and some of the stories this year will be difficult to hear.
I’m talking about accounts of sexual harassment, predation, and assaults, memories triggered by recent headlines involving the misconduct of a number of high-profile men. Nearly every woman and many of the teenage girls you know have at least one story of unwanted behavior of a sexual nature.
These experiences range from creepy to life-threatening, and every victim is entitled to choose the moment and the people to whom she reveals what has happened to her. Predictably, some will find that moment during the holidays, and you may be one of the people she believes she can trust.
As a former rape crisis counseling trainer, I offer a few guidelines: Listen. Believe her. Don’t ask probing questions. Don’t minimize her experience. Tell her you are sorry this happened to her. Thank her for confiding in you and assure her that you will not share her story without her permission. If you have had a similar experience and feel comfortable revealing that, briefly reference it without hijacking the conversation. Encourage her to talk with a professional if she feels the need.
Like the holidays we celebrate, the stories we tell and the stories we hear nearly always deepen our bonds to one another.
Mary Thomas Watts