DELAWARE — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and HelpLine Sexual Assault Response Network (SARN) is promoting the message, “Start by Believing” (SBB), through providing education on appropriate responses to sexual assault disclosures.

Affirming responses lead to improved access to support resources for Survivors while ending the cycle of silence.

Created by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), SBB challenges the victim-blaming messages which lead to feelings of guilt, shame and isolation for Survivors. Instead, SBB paves the way for Survivors to pursue healing and justice, coupled with support from their loved ones and their communities.

“There are so many critical steps and decisions that a Survivor may have to take and each step is a link in the chain of support,” said Lauren MacDade, HelpLine Sexual Assault and Victim Services Director. “Like any chain, one weak link can compromise the strength of the others.”

MacDade continued to say that when a friend or family member doesn’t believe the Survivor it may leave them feeling isolated from support. Further, when systems do not believe Survivors, their case may not be investigated, or they may feel they cannot reach out for help, resulting in a lack of access to the support and justice they seek.

“A single negative response at any point could mean that the whole chain of support falls apart,” said MacDade.

As few as 1 in 5 sexual assaults will be reported to law enforcement and less than 3 percent of these will result in a conviction. Survivors are more likely to disclose to someone they know and trust, such as a friend or family member. This makes it critically important to create a community where Survivors are believed and receive compassion, support, and justice they deserve – which all starts by believing Survivors.

HelpLine, in cooperation with local community partners, will provide therapeutic events for Survivors, families and friends to learn, connect and heal. Due to the continued pandemic, many of the SAAM events are virtual:

In 2020, HelpLine supported 248 Survivors and 42 co-survivors – which are friends, family members, partners,and/or other supports of the Survivor – through SARN services and the 24-hour rape crisis hotline and text line. During this same period, SARN volunteers spent 5,165 hours on call in support of Survivors.

While MacDade envisions a world where sexual violence is eliminated, she hopes to change the community response to sexual violence when it happens so that Survivors are supported and believed.

“Collectively, we can minimize the barriers that prevent Survivors from coming forth, one response at a time.”

To learn more about SAAM events, visit If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact SARN on our free, confidential 24-hour support, information, referral line at 1.800.684.2324 or text helpline to 898211.

Staff Report