Sometimes you may not know what to say, or you may be afraid that you will say the “wrong” thing. The most important way you can help a loved one is to be compassionate and supportive. Below are some suggestions on how you can help.
Believe them: Survivors are often afraid that others won’t believe them. It is important to assure them that you believe their story.
Listen: Allow the survivor to speak openly and freely. Let them decide what and how much they tell you about the assault–don’t force them to talk about it if they aren’t ready.
Assure them that it wasn’t their fault: It is common for survivors to blame themselves for the attack. While this reaction is perfectly normal, let them know that it was not their fault no matter what, and whatever they did or didn’t do was right because they survived.
Try not to ask “why” questions: Questions regarding the assault like “why didn’t you call me for a ride?” can sound accusatory and may cause further self-blame for the survivor. Even if you are asking with the best intentions, remember that the survivor’s emotions are probably heightened from the assault and they may interpret things differently.
Educate yourself: Learn about sexual assault: the reporting process, myths and facts, common reactions for survivors and other dynamics of the crime. Educating yourself will help you better support your loved one.
Encourage reporting and medical attention: Encourage loved ones to report the crime to police, and at the very least, seek medical attention to treat for possible injuries, Sexually Transmitted Infections and pregnancy risks. Ultimately, let the survivor make the decision on how to proceed.
Encourage emotional support: Even if they do not want to report the crime, encourage the survivor to seek help from a rape crisis counselor, therapist or other professional.
Respect their decisions: It is important to let the survivor make their own decisions. This can be very hard for a loved one if the survivor chooses not to report or seek help. During the assault the survivor had power and control taken away from them by the perpetrator, and making their own decisions can help them gain back control of their life.
Ask how you can help: When in doubt, ask the survivor how you can help. For example, ask if they would like you to stay with them or offer to let them stay with you. Let the survivor know that you are there for them, but always let them make the choice to accept help from you.
Take care of yourself: Sometimes loved ones can become so wrapped up in helping the survivor that they forget to take care of their own needs. Take care of yourself and consider seeking support from a counselor or rape crisis advocate. The Rape Assistance and Awareness Program (RAAP) has advocates available 24/7, as well as workshops for loved ones that have been sexually assaulted.
For Intimate Partners: Be patient with your significant other regarding physical intimacy. Ask your partner if you can touch or hug them. Healing takes time and a lack of desire for physical intimacy is not necessarily a reflection of their feelings towards you, but rather is the result of trauma from the rape.