Tips for helping victims
of sexual assault or sexual harrassment
Have you been approached by a loved one that has told you he or she has been sexually assaulted? This can be very difficult for many people to hear and even harder for the victim to disclose to you. Please use the following information to help you as you support your loved one.
Knowing what to say to the victim can help you both. Here are some suggestions from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network):
“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.
Remember, your support needs to be on-going.
There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support.
- Avoid judgment. The effects of a sexual assault can persist for long periods of time. The victim can experience a wide variety of side effects due to the assault including depression, anxiety and flash backs. Avoid saying things like, "You should be over this by now" or "why are you so focused on this?"
- Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
- Know your resources. Encourage the victim to reach out to Hope Alliance Crisis Center (1-800-460-7233) for counseling and other assistance in his/her recovery. If the victim isn't in the area, encourage them to contact RAINN (800-656-4673).