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Sexual assault survivor advocates offer help knowing how to help

News Photo by Julie Riddle Paige Allia, sexual assault program coordinator for Hope Shores Alliance, finishes setting up a display as Cabin Creek Coffee barista Kayla Ratz adds a sticky note of encouragement at the restaurant on Thursday.

ALPENA — Anyone, anywhere, can be a sexual assault survivor advocate, professional advocates say.

As the nation recognizes Sexual Assault Awarness Month, staff members at Hope Shores Alliance, an Alpena-based sexual and domestic assault support organization, want to prepare residents to respond if someone wants to disclose that they’ve been sexually assaulted.

Throughout April, interactive displays at businesses around Northeast Michigan will remind residents that they have the power to help someone heal and give them practice finding words of encouragement.

Offering support to someone talking about one of life’s most traumatic events can seem intimidating, but that support doesn’t have to be perfect, said Paige Allia, Hope Shores sexual assault program coordinator.

Talking about sexual assault — and how to respond to people who have experienced it — may remind people that they can stand up against such behavior by what they do and say, Allia said.

“Hey, wait a minute,” people may think, she said. “Maybe I can be part of the change.”

In 2020, 46 people reported some kind of sexual assault to Northeast Michigan police, according to the Michigan State Police.

Often, the actual number of assaults can be three times the number reported to police, experts estimate.

Whether they decide to disclose the assault to police or choose another way to confront the harm done to them, sexual assault survivors don’t fit into any one mold, Allia said.

Friends, loved ones, and even strangers can help survivors in their journey by believing, supporting, and validating them, she said.

To help residents feel comfortable in that supportive role, Hope Shores has launched an Everyday Advocates campaign to teach skills for receiving sexual assault disclosures.

In addition to offering workshops and presentations teaching such skills, Hope Shores has tacked blank posters to walls of businesses around the region.

Visitors to the businesses are invited to jot notes of support onto sticky notes and tack them on the posters.

Anyone passing by can take a note that speaks to them, Allia said.

Those leaving notes can enter their name in a raffle to win one of numerous prizes donated by community businesses.

Residents can also order shirts bearing an Everyday Advocates logo through Family Enterprise, with orders due by April 15.

Campaigns like Everyday Advocates help people address a topic not likely to come up over a family dinner, Allia said.

People who want to support survivors can start by believing them, she said.

Don’t ask questions that foist the blame for the assault onto the survivor, Allia suggested.

Instead, she said, put the blame where it belongs — on the perpetrator alone.

If someone shares their assault story, ask how you can help. If they don’t know, that’s OK. Throw out suggestions, even a simple offer to make a cup of tea or bring a meal, Allia advised.

Tell them it’s not their fault, she suggested.

Thank them for their trust.

Say you’ll listen.

A community that’s aware of sexual assault happening in its midst is more likely to tamp down lewd or sexist social media posts or comments and more likely to make survivors believe they will be heard, Allia said.

Danielle Ford, of Alpena, added the first sticky note of encouragement to a Hope Shores interactive display at Cabin Creek Coffee in downtown Alpena on Thursday.

People may miss signs that someone needs to talk to them about sexual assault, Ford said.

Hope Shores’ Everyday Advocates campaign will, she hopes, equip people to know what resources to offer someone who has experienced sexual assault and encouarge residents to believe, validate, and listen to survivors.

“It’s a little bit of hope for someone,” she said, “even if the words aren’t there.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

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