It is not uncommon for friends, family members, and romantic partners to feel unsure about how to support a loved one after they have revealed that they have experienced sexual violence. To help you support your loved one through their healing journey, our staff created this web page full of tips and insights.
When someone tells you that they have been sexually assaulted, always start by believing. One of the biggest reasons survivors don’t come forward is fear of not being believed. False reports of sexual assaults are very rare, with the same rates of false-reporting as other violent crimes. Friends and family are not jury members, and passing judgment does nothing but hurt the survivor and stop them from sharing their story with others, such as police. The simple statement “I believe you,” can empower your loved-one to continue to seek help.
Never blame the victim.
The only person to blame for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Our culture puts a lot of blame on survivors, and many internalize this blame. Help to fight this stigma by letting your loved-one know by telling them “this is not your fault.” No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Drinking is not a crime. Wearing a revealing outfit is not a crime. Going out late at night is not a crime. Sexual assault IS a crime.
When a friend or family member tells you about a sexual assault, it means they think you are a trusted, understanding person to tell. Listen to them and validate how they are feeling. Try to fully take in what they are saying in order to understand what they need from you.
Let them make their own decisions.
When someone is sexually assaulted, their power is taken away from them in the most violent way. As a friend or family member, you can help your loved-one to regain their power and control over their life. Let them make their own decisions. They know what is best for themselves in that moment, even if you do not agree. It can be hard to see someone you love choose not to report a sexual assault, but reporting the crime is not the right choice for everyone. Support your loved-one in their decisions.
Offer your support.
Show your loved-one how much you care about them. Oftentimes survivors of sexual assault feel alone and isolated after an assault. Survivors of sexual assault face increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse, PTSD, depression, and suicide, but these negative side-effects can be prevented if the survivor has a strong support system. Offer your loved-one counseling, advocacy, and support services in your area, which can be found on our website. Ask if they need a ride, or someone to sit with them in the waiting room. It can be hard to bring up such a difficult subject, but saying something is usually better than saying nothing.