How can I help someone who has been sexually assaulted?
Your friend or family member has just confided in you that he/she has been sexually assaulted. What can you do? This is a very emotional time for them, as well as you. These steps can help you be a good friend and support the survivor through this horrifying ordeal.
- Remain calm. You may feel shocked or outraged, but expressing these emotions to the victim may cause confusion or discomfort.
- Believe the victim. Make it clear that you believe the assault happened and that the assault is not her or his fault.
- Give the victim control. Control was taken away during the assault. Empower the victim to make decisions about what steps to take next, and try to avoid telling her or him what to do.
- Be available for the victim to express a range of feelings: crying, screaming, being silent, etc. Remember, the victim is angry with the person who assaulted her or him and the situation, not with you. Just be there to listen.
- Assure the victim of your support. She or he needs to know that regardless of what happened, your relationship will remain intact.
- Avoid making threats against the suspect. Threats of harm may only cause the victim to worry about your safety and risk of arrest.
- Maintain confidentiality. Let the victim decide who to tell about the assault.
- Encourage counseling. Give the victim the hotline number for the nearest rape crisis center, but let the victim decide whether or not to call.
- Ask before offering physical support. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the victim’s sense of security, safety, and control.
- Say what you can guarantee. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as saying the victim will never be hurt again, or that the offender will be put in jail.
- Allow the proper authorities to deal with the assault. Confronting the person who committed the sexual assault may be harmful or dangerous. Attempting to investigate or question others who may know about the assault may hamper a legal investigation. Leave this to the proper authorities.
- Be patient and recognize that healing can take years with advances and setbacks.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY -Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings.