Sexual Assault: Help for Family & Friends
If someone you know has experienced sexual assault or rape, you may wonder how you can help. Here are some resources to help you help them.
There are some basic responses that can be helpful if someone close to you has been sexually assaulted.
By acting thoughtfully, understandingly, and offering support, you can help to minimize the trauma.
START BY BELIEVING.
Believe the survivor that is disclosing to you. Telling those you love about a traumatic experience is very difficult, let them know you believe them. It is not your place to decide whether or not the survivor is telling the truth, just allow them to feel your love and support.
LET THE SURVIVOR KNOW YOU LOVE THEM, AND SUPPORT THEM.
Your instinct may want to take control, and fix this situation for the survivor. It is important to understand that the survivor has just had control taken away, and the best thing you can do for them right now is give them the freedom to make their own choices. Follow the lead of your loved one. Let them know you will support the decisions they make, and then do so.
DO NOT BLAME THE SURVIVOR, REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
They are looking to you for support. Blame and judgement only hurt. Don’t ask them WHY? Why didn’t you…? Why did you…? “Why” questions tend to back someone into a defensive corner. This will not be helpful in their recovery or in your relationship.
DO NOT PRESS FOR DETAILS OF THE ASSAULT.
A survivor may be unintentionally humiliated by someone close to them requesting intimate details of their assault. Allow them to decide when to talk about it, and with whom. Try to respect the decisions that are made as to who will know about the assault. Recovering from an assault is a unique and individual experience for every survivor. The length of the recovery will differ depending on the survivor’s personality and support system.
THERE ARE A VARIETY OF WAYS SURVIVORS MAY REACT.
The ways survivors react may not always reflect the amount of trauma they have been through. Allow the survivor to feel whatever it is they may be feeling. You may be feeling a great need to do something to help. Be careful that you are not forcing your friend or family member to do something for their healing that they may not be
ready for (i.e. counseling, talking, reporting, etc.).
YOUR FEELINGS OF ANGER AND HELPLESSNESS MAY BE VERY HIGH RIGHT NOW; BE SURE THAT THIS DOES NOT GET CONVEYED AS ANGER TOWARD THE SURVIVOR.
Trying to convince a survivor to move home, or to another apartment may reinforce that they are powerless and vulnerable. This can be discouraging to survivors and could keep them from getting the proper resources to cope. You do not want to promote unhealthy dependence on others. What a survivor needs is help in rebuilding the independence and self confidence that has been taken from them.
Do not limit the independence of the survivor by making decisions for them. Respect their judgement concerning dating, seeing friends, going out, and other things they may want to do.
UNDERSTAND HIS/HER NEED FOR PRIVACY.
If you have experienced a sexual assault in the past, be mindful of your own feelings and experiences, be careful not to project them onto the survivor.
IF THE SURVIVOR IS MALE, DO NOT ASSUME THAT HE IS GAY, OR MAKE OTHER JUDGEMENTS.
One of the biggest obstacles for males and reporting sexual assaults is the fear that others may project a sexual orientation onto the survivor.
BE A GOOD LISTENER.
Listen more than you speak. If you are hearing your own voice more than the survivors, you are talking too much. Listen more.
Your role is not to have all the answers. Listen to the survivor and do what they need you to do.
KNOW THAT EACH EXPERIENCE IS UNIQUE
Even if you know others who have experienced sexual assault, avoid comparing the experiences.
DO NOT LET EVERY CONVERSATION FOCUS ON THIS TOPIC.
There was a relationship with the survivor prior to this, and there will be again. If your loved one is not jumping in to take control of the situation, this does not mean that you need to. Let them sort out where they are trying to go with their recovery, and be there to support their decisions.
IT IS NOT UNCOMMON TO FEEL ANGER AND WANT TO SEEK REVENGE TOWARD THE OFFENDER.
This is a normal and understandable feeling, and yet, not the best way to respond. Right now, calmness and fair judgement are the most beneficial. Threatening to take care of the situation only adds to the emotional baggage the survivor is already feeling.
DO NOT EVER SUGGEST THAT THE SURVIVOR SECRETLY ENJOYED THE EXPERIENCE.
The survivor needs to be reassured that the sexual assault is not equal to promiscuity or cheating.
If you have a sexual relationship with the survivor, let them decide if or when they are ready to resume that relationship. Let the survivor be the guide, do not take the lack of sexual desire personally. You may consider counseling to help with these relationship changes.
Disclosing A Sexual Assault.
Those close to the survivor often wonder why it took so long for them to tell them about the assault. It is often easier for the survivor to talk to a stranger than someone that they love and care about because there is less attachment. Respect the boundaries of the survivor, do not press for details about the assault or the offender. They will disclose to you the details that they are comfortable sharing.
Understand that whenever a survivor discloses to you, they are looking to you for a reaction, verbal or non-verbal. If a survivor feels that there is any reason for them to believe that you do not believe them or accept what they are saying, their ability to continue will greatly diminish.
When you don’t know what to say, try:
- “I am willing to listen when you are ready to talk. I do not want to force you into a situation that you are not comfortable with.”
- “I don’t know what to say, but I am here, I am your friend, and I believe you. I will support you in whatever decision you make.”
- “Tell me how I can help you through this.”