For Loved Ones
The effects of sexual violence extend far beyond the primary survivor. Friends, family members, and loved ones can be profoundly affected when someone who they care about experiences sexual assault or abuse.
It is important to recognize and address your own reactions to the assault or abuse of a loved one so that you can provide support rather than possibly traumatizing them further. How you react may depend on factors including the nature of the assault, the age of the survivor, and your relationship to them.
You may experience some or all of these feelings:
Anger (sometimes towards the victim as well as the perpetrator)
Guilt or shame
The most important thing that you can do for a survivor is to believe them and remind them that they are not to blame for what happened to them. From there, take cues on how to help them. Ask the survivor what they would like you to do to be supportive. Helping survivors regain their sense of control is important; give them time to decide how they want to proceed legally or otherwise.
There is support available for you, too. SARA's services are available to friends and family members, even if the victim/survivor does not want services. Be patient with your loved one and yourself as you both heal.
How to help someone who has been sexually assaulted:
"I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
More tips for supporting survivors from RAINN.org
Allow them to make their own decisions. Being a survivor of sexual assault means losing all power and control over what happens to your own body. Let the survivor decide whether or not to report the sexual assault to law enforcement and allow them to make their own choices about medical care.
Encourage them to seek medical attention. While it is important to let the survivor make the decision, make sure they understand that someone who has been sexually assaulted can get their physical health taken care of WITHOUT reporting to law enforcement (as long as the survivor is age 18 or older). However, it is important to respect the decisions the survivor makes.
Remember it’s their story to tell. Let the survivor decide who to tell about the sexual assault.
Offer to go with them to law enforcement or hospital. Let the survivor know that you will accompany them to any appointment they choose to make. Don’t pressure them to do something they do not want to do.
Listen to them. Let them talk about their feelings and their perception of the assault.
Don’t tell them to forget. Survivors of sexual assault can’t forget the assault but can learn to take back control of their own life with time.