Survivors of sexual assault are more likely to tell a friend or trusted loved one about the assault than anyone else. When a survivor confides in you, you may want to help but not know what to do, react or say. You are likely to be emotionally shaken and find yourself struggling with your own feelings of anger and helplessness.
While the experience of each survivor is unique, there are no set guidelines for how to help. However, there are some important points to keep in mind when offering support.
First and foremost, sexual assault is not about sex — it is about power and control. The perpetrator of sexual assault is exerting power and control over another human being. The survivor is in no way responsible for the assault.
It is very difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story, and your reaction may impact whether or not your friend chooses to continue to share this information with others and seek further help. Here are some tips to consider for supporting your friend or family member.
What You Can Do
Believe the survivor. Tell them you want to support them in any way that you can. Do not judge your, regardless of the circumstances.
Be a good listener. If you hear your own voice more than that of the survivor, you’re talking too much and not listening enough. Listen non-judgmentally and accept the experience as your loved one describes it. Remember, your role to be supportive.
Know that each experience is unique. If you’ve had other friends or family members who have experienced a sexual assault, avoid making comparisons. Everyone experiences sexual assault in different, complex ways.
For instance, the survivor may seem fine in June and then be completely devastated in August. They may feel completely numb one day and angry the next. This is okay. And it’s important that the both of you understand that any reaction is a perfectly normal reaction.
Assure the survivor that it is not their fault. Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, you remind the survivor that no matter what happened—it was not their fault.
Give the survivor control. Let them choose the next steps. Do not put pressure on your loved one to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet. You may provide advice, guidance, and information about their options, but allow them to decide if, when, and how they will pursue these resources.
Offer to go with the survivor. If the survivor is hesitant to get help, offer to accompany them in seeking medical attention, counseling, or legal remedies.
Respect privacy and confidentiality. Do not share the survivor’s story with other people unless you have their permission to do so. At the same time, never hesitate to seek advice from individuals who are in a position to help. It is not necessary to give names or provide details to learn more about options.
Do not forget to support yourself. Supporting a survivor through a trauma can be a difficult and emotional experience for those in the support role. Recognize this and don’t hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it.
Remember anyone can be the victim of sexual assault. If your friend is a male survivor or identifies as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer) they deserve the same support and respect of their experience.
How to Support a Child
If you are the non-abusing parent in a case of incest, it is important to support your child and help them through this situation without blaming them. This is also true if you are not a parent but still an observer of incest.
Believe your child. It’s often very difficult for a survivor to come forward and share their story. Your reaction may impact whether or not your child chooses to continue to share this information with others and seek further support. State that you believe them and you want to support them in any way that you can.
Do not ask “Why?” Why didn’t you…? Why did you…? All “why” questions have the tendency to shut down communication to the detriment of your child’s recovery and your relationship with your child.
Recognize that time may have passed before your child consulted you. Don’t let this become an issue. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” will not be perceived as a supportive statement. Your child’s reason for not telling you sooner may have been fear of your reaction, and you don’t want to shut down the opportunity for your child to share.
For more information:
If the survivor is seeking or considering medical care-
- The emergency room staff can perform a forensic medical exam – often called a rape kit – and will collect evidence against the perpetrator. In Mississippi, victims have up to 96 hours to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Exam (SANE). These exams are of no cost the victim If its after 96 hours, medical treatment is still encouraged and they are still eligible for the exam. Contact your local state coalition to find out about SANE exams in your state.
- The survivor also has the option of providing any other evidence that may support their case, such as sheets, blankets, or anything that may have DNA from the perpetrator.
- The hospital will keep the evidence so bring a change of clothes for your friend if necessary.
- In the case of genital rape, a doctor may test for STI’s or recommend future testing.
- The doctor may also prescribe emergency contraception if there is a risk of pregnancy.
- Most hospitals provide an advocate for sexual assault survivors to provide support during this process. You may request this person’s presence from the local rape crisis center if one is not sent automatically. In addition to emotional support, this advocate will provide information regarding the survivor’s legal rights and options. These advocates are also trained to support friends and family members so you may also feel free to discuss your concerns with this person.
Additional Links and Resources