How to support a survivor of Sexual Assault

Spartans for Safety - Sexual Assault

How Family and Friends Can Help

Be clear that the rape or assault was not the survivor's fault.

No one ever asks to be raped or assaulted. Raping someone is a conscious decision made by the perpetrator. Even if the survivor exercises bad judgment, she/he did not deserve to be raped; no one does.

Believe the survivor.

Feeling that she is believed by family and friends is essential for a rape survivor's recovery. She has to overcome many obstacles to be able to speak out about what has happened. Allow the survivor to know you are open to hearing about her feelings and experiences. Although it may be painful for you to hear about what happened, letting the survivor know you are willing to enter those difficult places with her is important.

Do not question or judge what the survivor had to do to survive.

During a rape/sexual assault, victims are forced to make instant life threatening decisions. These decisions should not be criticized later. Survivors may not always scream or fight back. Their survival is evidence that they handled the assault the best way they could. Expressing to the survivor that you are thankful that she is alive enables her to feel more secure about her judgments.

Be respectful of the survivor's decisions.

Often a survivor will not want to report the assault to the police. While you may not always agree with these types of decisions, respecting and supporting the survivor is very empowering. Supporting a survivor in this way enables her to feel in control of her life, a feeling that was taken away during the assault.

Validate and protect the survivor's feelings: anger, pain, and fear.

These are natural responses to traumatic experiences. The survivor needs to express them, feel them, and be heard. Protecting the survivor's confidentiality or anonymity is an important step in gaining her trust.

Express your compassion.

If you are feeling outrage, compassion, or pain, share these emotions with the survivor. There is nothing more comforting than genuine human response. Be cautious, however, that your responses are not too overwhelming for the survivor. Often family and friends of survivors feel compelled to "go after" the perpetrator. These feelings are very real and very understandable. However, they can be channeled in more non-violent ways.

Encourage the survivor to get support.

In addition to offering your own caring, encourage her to reach out to others. You can help find someone with whom she can talk. (Rape crisis centers have sexual assault/rape counselors.) Similarly, you may have many feelings about the rape/assault. Consider getting support for yourself, too. You will need to take care of yourself in order to be supportive of the survivor.

Get help if the survivor is suicidal.

Most survivors are not suicidal, but sometimes the emotional pain of the assault/rape is so devastating that they may want to kill themselves. If you are close to a survivor who is suicidal, get immediate help for them.

Resist seeing the survivor as a victim.

Continue to see the person as a strong, courageous individual who is reclaiming her/his own life.

Accept that there may be changes in your relationship with the survivor.

The person you love is changing, and you may need to change in response. Patience on your part is crucial to her healing process. Healing is a slow process that cannot be hurried.

Educate yourself about sexual assault/rape and the healing process.

If you have a basic idea of what the survivor has experienced, it will help you be supportive. Talking with other survivors, supporters of survivors, and/or utilizing services designed to help survivors will help you gain knowledge.

Seek counseling for yourself.

You are also a victim in some ways. The ripple effect of sexual assault extends to family members, friends, and even coworkers.