What if someone you know has been sexually assaulted?
As a loved one of someone who has been sexually assaulted, there are many important things you can say and do to aid in the healing process. Each person handles such an event differently, so it’s hard to say exactly what your loved one will need from you. However, here are some general guidelines:
- Listen. Letting your loved one speak and direct the conversation can help them regain a sense of control. Let them decide what they want to talk about and when they want to talk about it.
- Believe them. Our culture makes it very difficult to talk about sexual assault, and the fear of not being believed is a very real concern for people who have been assaulted. Don’t contribute to that fear.
- Assure your loved one that they are not to blame for the assault, no matter what the circumstances of the assault were.
- Do not judge how your loved one reacted during or after the assault — whether they fought back or not, how long they waited to ask you for help, etc. Understand that they handled the situation the best they could.
- Be mindful when asking questions about the assault so that you don’t seem judgmental, condescending or otherwise unsupportive.
- Be supportive of your loved one’s decisions. Whether or not they report the assault, press charges, attend counseling, etc., is not up to you. It is important and empowering for your loved one to make their own decisions about how to proceed after an assault. But, don’t be entirely uninvolved — they might ask for your opinion or advice, and some gentle encouragement to seek both medical and emotional help can be positive.
- Be respectful of your loved one’s privacy. Do not share anything about the assault with anybody, including your loved one’s other family members or other close friends, unless your loved one gives you clear and explicit permission to do so.
- Resist seeing your loved one as a victim. You need to continue to see them as strong and courageous. After all, talking about a sexual assault is strong and courageous. It is important that you help your loved one feel empowered and in control, which is more difficult if you don’t believe it yourself.
- Accept that there might be changes in your loved one’s personality or in your relationship. Sexual assault is a very traumatic experience that can change a person, and the healing process takes time.
- Be aware that you might need support as well. The assault of a loved one might make you feel anger, guilt, sadness and/or many other emotions. Take care of yourself and address your feelings as well, but be careful not to overwhelm your loved one with your own emotions. If you seek support from someone, be sure to maintain your loved one’s anonymity.