How to help assault survivors

REMEMBER THAT SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NEVER THE SUVIVOR’S FAULT

SUPPORT – LISTEN - BELIEVE

  • Believe the survivor. Let her or him know you do. Not being believed is what survivors fear most.
  • Listen to the survivor. Give them a chance to talk about the experience and her/his feelings. Be thoughtful in your response. Allow him/her to be silent; you don’t have to talk every time s/he stops talking. Don’t ask questions that imply that the assault was the survivor’s fault, such as “why did you go to his room” or “why did you go drinking?”
  • Help the survivor regain some sense of control. Support him/her in making decisions about whom to tell and how to proceed. Communicate that any feeling the survivor may have are normal and understandable. Supporting someone means validating her or her feelings and emotions.
  • Recognize your own limitations. No one expects you to be an expert in counseling or sexual assault; therefore, avoid making strong recommendations to your friend. Realize that as a friend you may need counseling to cope with the events your friend may have shared with you.

What NOT to do When Helping a Survivor

  • Avoid making decisions for the survivor. Instead, listen and then ask you can help.
  • Do not touch or hug your friend without permission.
  • Statements like the ones below come across as blaming the survivor and increase a sense of guilt shame, or responsibility. Try not to judge the survivor’s behavior or imply that it is somehow their fault.

    “Why didn’t your fight?” “You shouldn’t have gone to their room”, or anything else that questions the actions of the victim. These types of statements send the message that the person could have done something to avoid the attached and that it is her or his fault. One should not question a survivor’s actions.

    “Where you drunk?” This sends the message that the person is partially responsible for the attack. Intoxication does not excuse a perpetrator’s actions, nor does it make the survivor responsible for being assaulted.

    “I’ll kill the person who did this to you!” While anger is a natural reaction, it can be very harmful. The survivor has faced one person whose anger was out of control and must now try to calm down another person so there won’t be more violence.

    “You should go to the police.” Although going to the police might be a step in the healing process for the victim, it must be their decision to do so. Allowing them to make decisions to disclose to other or seek services will help the person gain back control that was taken away.

Your reaction

  • Disbelief. Family and friends may react to the sexual assault of a loved one with shock and disbelief, especially if there are no visible signs of attack.
  • Fear. You may feel intense fear for yourself or for the attached person. You may want to protect him or her from future assault. Your concern may be reassuring soon after the assault, but too much caution can make it difficult for the survivor to feel capable and in control again.
  • Depression. It is normal to feel sad. Sexual assault can bring up feelings of powerlessness in survivors and those who love them.
  • Guilt. This is a common reaction. Whatever you did or did not do, you are not to blame.
  • Anger. Often loved ones experience anger after a sexual assault. Your first reaction may be to seek revenge against the attacker. This is will not help yourself or the survivor if you are hurt or in jail. If you find yourself blaming the victim for the assault, make sure that you have someone other than that person who can listen to your angry feelings. Remember, even if the survivor used poor judgment, it is the attacker who is responsible.