We all have what it takes to be ‘First Responders’


Samantha’s house: Burglarized. Her valuables stolen, shattered glass everywhere from broken windows, paintings damaged or missing. Clothes everywhere and everything a mess. A feeling of violation is experienced at its core, and frustration and distrust surface. She may think to herself- Who would do something like this to me? If I tell others, will they believe me? Will others be kind and patient when I speak or will they blame and criticize? Should I report it to the police?

People would most likely listen to her. People would believe her.

Can we say the same when a victim of rape is bold enough to tell a friend, neighbor, law enforcement individual, or healthcare provider of the horrific, inhumane occurrence? The response? Many times she is not believed or individuals are indifferent or blame the victim- leading to feelings of depression, isolation, increased anxiety and in some cases suicide. Each interaction we have with a survivor is an opportunity for us to help that person and make a positive impact on her life.

Inaction is a lost opportunity. Action increases the chances of perpetrator accountability.

We can see the positive impact that is possible when sexual assault survivors call into a Rape Crisis Helpline. When professionals and individuals respond positively and Start by Believing, there is an increased chance of healing and achieving perpetrator accountability. Supporting the survivor gives her the strength to not abandon hope, the strength to take care of herself, and the strength to seek justice.

The Start By Believing (SBB) campaign, created by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), is designed to change the community’s response to sexual assault. Simply put, when a survivor discloses sexual assault, we make a commitment to listen, empathize and assist in getting the help they need. Communities and police departments have started engaging in the SBB campaign in California and Arizona. Most recently, the Huntington Beach Police Department and Mayor’s support for the SBB campaign led to the adoption of the city’s SBB proclamation.

Each one of us has the ability to be a ‘first responder.’ Law enforcement, community agencies, family members, town residents including you and I have the ability to respond effectively to help someone when they disclose sexual assault. These individuals are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our granddaughters, our nieces. A mother of another brother is still someone’s mother, a sister of another mister is still someone’s sister. A daughter of someone’s father, is still someone’s daughter.

If your sister or mom needed help, wouldn’t you want someone to Start by Believing? For more information: http://www.startbybelieving.org

To make a personal commitment to SBB: http://www.startbybelieving.org/Commitment.aspx


Varsha N., JD


Varsha has served as an anti-domestic violence advocate for over 10 years, worked with diverse immigrant populations, and gives presentations at non-profit organizations, universities, colleges, and national conferences on topics including cross-cultural communication, diversity, and domestic violence.  She has a legal background and has worked as an anti-sexual assault Advocate for a 24-hour Rape crisis helpline assisting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Varsha serves on the Executive Committee, Board of Directors of End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI).