After a recent assault or disclosure of a past assault, survivors
need your support. You can do a number of things to help the
person you care about get through this difficult time.
Believe her/him . It is not your role to
question whether a sexual assault occurred. In reality, false
sexual assault reports are no more or less common than false
reports for other violent crimes.
Help her/him explore options. Don’t
take charge of the situation and pressure the survivor to do
what you think should be done. That’s what the offender
did. Give the survivor the freedom to choose a path of
recovery that is most comfortable, even if you would do
it differently. Remember, there is no single right way
for a survivor to respond after being assaulted.
Listen to her/him. Is it
crucial to let the survivor know that s/he can talk to you
about her/his experience when ready. Some may not wish to
speak with you immediately, but at some point during the
healing process, it is likely that the survivor will come
to you for support. When that happens, don’t interrupt, yell, or interject your feelings. Just
listen to the survivor’s feelings and experiences.
Your caring attention will be invaluable.
Never blame her/him for being assaulted. No
one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. No matter what
s/he wore, how many times s/he had sex before, whether
s/he was walking alone at night, whether s/he got drunk,
or whether s/he went to the perpetrator’s room. Poor judgment is
not a rape-able offense. Even if the survivor feels responsible,
say clearly and caringly, “It wasn’t your fault”.
Ask before you touch. Don’t
assume that physical contact, even in the form of a gentle
touch or hug, will be comforting to a survivor. Many survivors,
especially within the first weeks after an assault, prefer
to avoid sex or simple touching even by those they love and
trust. Be patient. Give her/him the space s/he needs, and
try your best not to take it personally.
Recognize that you’ve been assaulted too. We
can’t help but be hurt when someone we love is made to
suffer. Don’t blame yourself for the many feelings you
will have after learning that someone close to you has been
sexually assaulted. Sadness, confusion, anger, helplessness,
fear, grief, disappointment, shock, anxiety, desperation, and
compassion are all common reactions for survivors and their
significant others. Being aware of these emotions will ultimately
help you better understand the survivor’s experience
and be more supportive.
Get help for yourself. Whether
you reach out to a friend, family member, counselor, or religious
professional, make sure you don’t go through this experience
alone. Most sexual assault crisis centers offer counseling
for significant others and family members because they realize
the impact of sexual assault extends far beyond the survivor.
Remember, asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength,