The support survivors of sexual assault receive from the people they love and trust can be invaluable to their ability to cope with and heal from sexual assault. Following are some helpful suggestions
Allow your friend to talk about what happened and control the direction of the conversation. Do not ask a lot of questions or focus on the attack itself, but rather on how he or she is handling the trauma.
Listen without giving advice or trying to “fix” things
When we care for someone, we often try to give advice, solve their problems or fix things for them. While it comes from a place of caring, our instinct to try to problem-solve or give advice can sometimes leave a survivor feeling as though their emotions are being dismissed. Sometimes, the issues a survivor is having will not feel fixable to them or to you, and it’s much more helpful to just be there to listen to whatever a survivor wants to share with you.
Let the survivor have control
Allow survivors to make decisions for themselves and assure them that their decisions are supported. You don’t have to agree with their decisions but it is important to give them the authority to decide how they will handle things.
It is important that the survivor knows you believe what happened.
Normalise a survivor’s feelings
Every survivor will react to their experience differently. Survivors may experience many upsetting, conflicting, confusing feelings after an assault. Survivors often re-experience the event through flashbacks, may feel on-edge all the time, or may be prone to sudden outbursts, which can feel especially upsetting and leave a survivor feeling even more disempowered. Some survivors may blame themselves for and feel frustrated by these intense feelings, and it’s important to remind a survivor these feelings and responses are out of their control and are the body’s way of responding to a traumatic event. Something helpful you could say would be, “You are having a normal response to an abnormal situation.”
Provide unconditional support
It will help your friend to hear that they are not to blame for the assault. Regardless of an individual’s choices prior to the attack, no one ever asks to be or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted.
Healing takes time, and every survivor copes with trauma differently. Don’t pressure or rush your friend to be “normal” or to “just move on.” Instead, reassure your friend that support will be available throughout the healing process, however long it may take.
Let the survivor know that help is available
If they are interested and open to receiving assistance, tell them about the Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292 – 24/7 or offer to help find local services for them.
Some helpful statements include:
- I believe you.
- This is not your fault.
- I am so sorry that this happened.
- You did not deserve this.
- I am happy that you are safe and that you are here to talk with me.
- Thank you for being brave/comfortable enough to talk with me.
- How can I help you right now?
Supporting a survivor
Supporting a survivor can feel challenging for a number of reasons: you may be worried about upsetting the survivor, you may have other personal experience with this issue, or you may feel you don’t know what to say at all. The most important things you can do for a survivor are to listen, validate, ask how you can help, know where to refer a survivor for further help, listen without judgment, and care for yourself.
Make sure you are getting the support you need
Watching a friend or loved one work through the aftermath of a sexual assault can be an extremely difficult and painful experience. Common feelings of those supporting someone who has been assaulted include helplessness, frustration, anger and guilt. It can be helpful to talk with someone other than the survivor about these feelings.
Tip → You understandably may be experiencing discomfort, shock or uncertainty, and have a lot of questions. To respect the survivor’s discomfort and give yourself the space you need to process your own feelings, wait until you’re away from the survivor and call the Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292 – 24/7 for free, confidential support.