how to help a friend
After a sexual assault survivors need your support.
Surviving sexual assault can be an emotional and confusing time for both the survivor and their close friends and family.
As a loved one, you may not know what to do or say, and research shows that healthy responses after a disclosure can help minimize long term consequences.
Here are some examples of what survivors have told us they needed from those they loved.
listen and don’t be judgmental ~ Often a person in crisis just needs someone to hear their story.
be patient ~ Everyone deals with sexual assault differently and recovers in their own time frame.
believe ~ One of the most important things you can do is to communicate that you believe what your friend is telling you. Survivors often worry that they will not be believed or have been told by the perpetrator that no one will believe them.
avoid asking accusing questions ~ Don’t ask questions about why your friend did (or didn’t do) a certain thing. Survivors do the best they can in confusing, terrifying, or life-threatening situations.
do not blame ~ Reassure them the assault was not their fault. The perpetrator is to blame for what happened. You may feel angry and frustrated about what happened, but don’t take it out on the survivor.
empower ~ Sexual assault represents the ultimate loss of personal power. You can help the survivor regain power over their life by letting them make their own decision about what to do next. Help with information on their options, but respect their right to make their own decision
show that you care ~ Remind the survivor that you care, and this crisis hasn’t changed that fact. You may feel that you can’t do much, but your presence and acceptance can mean a great deal.
respect their privacy ~ Respect the confidentiality and privacy of the survivor. Do not disclose what they have told you to other people without their permission
refer to resources ~ Offer to accompany them to report the assault to the police and/or seek medical attention. For the survivor’s health and self-protection, it is important to be checked for possible injuries and STD’s
let them know they are not alone ~ If they need medical care, go with them. If they are going to the police, to court, to see a lawyer etc., offer to go with them. Let them know they have someone that will be supportive if and when they need it. Let them do the talking, remember you are only there for support.
take care of yourself ~ It can be very upsetting and traumatic when someone you care about is victimized. You may feel powerless, guilty, shocked, angry, or scared. These feelings are normal and natural responses. Be sure to be kind to yourself and get help managing these emotions. It is also common and natural to feel rage toward the assailant. It is important to find healthy ways to express your anger without further traumatizing the survivor.
Call our 24-hour helpline (800.669.3176)
to speak with an advocate about assistance available to you and the survivor.