Frequently Asked Questions: Start by Believing

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Palomar is participating in the Start by Believing Pledge Challenge this year. Join us by pledging to Start by Believing when someone discloses to you that they’ve been sexually assaulted. Use the hashtag #PalomarBelieves at https://www.startbybelieving.org/pledge/ and on social media to participate!

But if you’re wondering what it means to Start by Believing, read on.

What is Start by Believing?

Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign launched by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) in April 2011. It was created to end the cycle of silence and change the way society responds to sexual assault.

Start by Believing reaches friends and family members, as well as professionals who interact with sexual assault survivors. The campaign focuses specifically on changing the response to a disclosure of sexual assault victimization by expressing belief and support, rather than doubt, shame, or blame.

What is the Start by Believing Pledge?

The Start by Believing pledge is a personal commitment to Start by Believing when someone tells you they were raped or sexual assaulted.

I pledge to:

  • Start by Believing when someone tells me they were raped or sexually assaulted
  • Support survivors on the road to justice and healing
  • Help end the silence

Why do we need to Start by Believing?

Historically, sexual assault victims have often faced reactions of doubt and blame when they reported the crime or reached out for help. These reactions can increase the trauma victims experience and decrease the likelihood they will pursue justice and healing. This also means that perpetrators are not held accountable for their crimes, and they remain free to sexually assault additional victims.

For more information on the rationale for the Start by Believing campaign, please see our resources, particularly our article summarizing the relevant research.

What impact does Start by Believing have on survivors?

When someone has been sexually assaulted, they often turn first to family members or friends. If the response to their disclosure is disbelief or blame, this can increase the trauma of the assault and decrease the likelihood that the victim will report to law enforcement or seek other services, such as medical care.

On the other hand, victims who are treated with respect and whose accounts are taken seriously will often feel more comfortable reporting or seeking additional help. It can be extremely stressful for victims to participate in an investigation and subsequent court proceedings; when they have support from friends and family, as well as positive interactions with law enforcement, victim advocates, medical providers, and others, they can have fewer long-term negative effects of trauma.

The two specific behaviors that seem to have the most significant positive effect on victims are having someone to talk to and being believed, which are foundations of a Start by Believing approach. For more information and supporting research, please see our article summarizing the relevant research.