Sexual Assault/Rape: How To Help
Rape and sexual assault are traumatic acts that can impact every aspect of a person’s life. As a friend you can make a world of difference to someone who has experienced rape or sexual assault.
What Can I Do?
- Let them TALK. LISTEN to them and BELIEVE them. Let them know that it’s not their fault; it’s the perpetrator’s fault. Say things like: “I’m so sorry this happened to you,” “You are safe now,” “No matter what you did, you did not deserve to be the victim of a crime.”
- Let them know you are concerned for their physical and emotional safety. Tell them that what happened to them was wrong and ask them what their needs are.
- Assure them confidentiality. Don’t tell others about your conversations without their permission.
- Encourage them to seek support. Encourage your friend to talk to others they trust and seek the support and help of a trained counselor.
- Offer shelter and be available to them. If it is at all possible, offer to stay with them or for them to stay with you. Even if they were not raped recently, talking about the assault might bring up fearful memories.
- Be patient and sensitive to their needs. Each survivor has their own timetable for recovering from a rape. Do not impose a timetable on them. Allow them to move at their own pace.
- If they were assaulted recently, encourage them to get medical care. Your friend may have internal injuries or infections that need medical attention.
- Accept their choices about how to deal with the rape. Even if you disagree with them, it is the survivor’s choice whether or not to report the assault or disclose to others. It is important that their decisions are respected.
- Do not be overly protective. Encourage them to make their own decisions. Your friend needs to feel in control of their own life.
What Should I Not Say…?
We often want to help, yet can sometimes unintentionally be insensitive to a survivor’s needs. There are a few things NOT to say to a survivor.
“What’s the big deal?”
Sexual assault is a very big deal. Asking “what is the big deal,” minimizes the survivor’s experience whether it happened ten hours ago or ten years ago.
“Why didn’t you fight?”
“You shouldn’t have gone to his room.”
“Were you drunk?”
(Or anything that questions the actions of the survivor)
These types of statements send the message that the survivor could have done something to avoid the attack and that she is to blame. Avoid questioning a survivor’s actions. Freezing, submitting, and fighting are ALL natural responses to being attacked. Intoxication does not excuse a perpetrator’s actions, nor does it make the survivor responsible for being assaulted.
“I’ll kill the guy who did this to you!”
While anger is a natural reaction, it can be very harmful. The survivor has already faced one person whose anger was out of control.
“It’s better not to talk about it.”
Actually, it IS better to talk about it. Studies have shown that talking about stressful events speeds up recovery. Allow the survivor to talk at their own pace.
It’s OK to feel confused or overwhelmed, but share that with your friend. Your silence can have an equally isolating effect on a survivor.
Family and friends may react to the sexual assault of a loved one with many of the same feelings and physical reactions that the survivor experiences. Initially you may respond with shock and disbelief, feel intense fear for your or the survivor’s safety, feel anger towards the attacker or the survivor, feel depressed and powerless, or feel guilty that you could not prevent what happened. All these feelings are normal reactions, but it can be helpful to meet with a counselor to share what you are feeling. Even if you chose not to meet with a professional, be sure to get support for yourself, whether from friends, family, a partner, or a mentor. Supporting someone after a sexual assault is emotionally difficult in many ways. Be sure to take care of yourself, too.