Helping Survivors of Sexual Assault:
When It Happens to Someone You Know
You are likely to experience some strong reactions when you learn of the assault. It is important to be aware of what these may be so you can better deal with them in the crisis.
- Feelings of anger, rage, shock, horror
- Strong desire for revenge
- Desire to “fix it” or make it all better quickly
- Rationalization that the assault was not “all that bad.”
You Can Make a Difference
Unless you have been a victim of sexual assault, you cannot completely understand the victim’s feelings.
You will not be able to “cure” the situation or make life as it was before the assault.
However, your response can make the difference between a quick road to recovery and years of trauma and anguish for the victim.
For a victim to become a survivor, he or she needs empathy, understanding and perhaps a listening ear.
You can provide important information and needed support.
How You Can Help
Remain calm. It is common for you to feel shock and rage, but expressing these emotions to the victim may cause the victim more trauma. Share these feelings with someone else.
Focus on the Victim’s Needs. Convey you are there for the victim; the victim is not there for you. Ask what you can do to help. Don’t ask “why” questions of the victim. Make it clear to the victim that you believe the assault is the fault of the perpetrator, not the VICTIM. By simply surviving the attack, the victim did the right thing.
Encourage Medical Attention. Services at the emergency room or from a doctor are important because there may be internal injuries that are not noticeable or pregnancy can happen. A medical exam can help provide evidence should the victim decide to prosecute. These decisions should be made by the victim.
Give the Victim Control. All control has been stripped from the victim during the assault. Allow the victim to make decisions such as who to tell and what steps to take next. Be careful not to overprotect or patronize.
Ask Before Touching the Victim. You may want to hold and comfort the victim, but the victim may be terrified of any touch. Abide by the wishes of the victim and realize this is not a personal rejection.
Let the Victim Express Feelings. Allow the victim to cry, yell, scream, etc. Remember the victim is yelling at the perpetrator and the situation, not at you.
Listen to the Victim. Listen. Don’t belittle the experience. If the victim wishes to be silent, do not force discussion. Tell the victim you are available to listen any time.
Encourage Counseling. Give the victim the hotline number of the local rape crisis center. Let the decision regarding whether or not to seek counseling be made by the victim.
Seek Counseling Yourself. You cannot ignore your own feelings, but you also cannot share them with the victim right now. Your local rape crisis center can provide you with information and a listening ear.