When someone you care about has been sexually assaulted, it affects you too.
You may be feeling angry, confused, frightened, guilty or helpless. These are not only common reactions for survivors of sexual assault, but also for their families, partners and friends. It is important to remember that just as the survivor is not to blame, this was not your fault either. Just as CVTC is here to help survivors, we are here to help you, too.
How can I be supportive?
Emphasize that the assault was not his or her fault. Self-blame is one of the most common and devastating emotions experienced by someone who has been sexually assaulted. Make it clear that you do not blame the survivor for what happened. This is one of the most meaningful things you can do.
Don't be directive, be supportive. When someone is sexually assaulted, their power and control are ripped away. Telling a survivor what they should do perpetuates the loss of control and sense of helplessness they felt during the assault, even if it comes from a well meaning place. Instead, help them identify what they feel would be best for them in the moment, even if you don't agree with it.
If you're not sure, ask. The survivor may or may not want to talk about the assault during the first few days. If he or she is not ready to talk, don't force it. Let him or her know that you're there to be supportive if and when s/he is ready.
Don't minimize. Avoid saying things like "It's over now, don't focus on it" or "It could have been worse." Comments like these usually make a survivor feel unheard and embarrassed.
Avoid asking specific questions about the assault. These can make the survivor feel threatened and uncomfortable. Instead, ask the survivor about his or her feelings; what do you need? what are you most concerned about right now? Questions like these express support and will help you understand how you can be more helpful.
Have more questions?
Contact us. We're here to help.
Facts about sexual assault
- It is never a survivor's fault. Regardless of the circumstances, it is the rapist who committed a crime, not the survivor.
- Sexual assault is not the same as sex. It is a violent act in which sex is used as a weapon to gain power and control.
- An attempted sexual assault can be equally traumatic. The feelings of powerlessness, terror and shame can be the same whether or not the sexual assault was completed.
- Sexual identity is not a factor. Sexual assault happens regardless of gender and sexual identity. The majority of rapists identify as straight males. It is an act of aggression, not sexual attraction.
- There is no "right way" to react to a sexual assault. Every survivor's reaction is normal. Some get angry, some cry, some seem calm and composed.
- It is the survivor's choice whether or not to report the crime. Respecting his or her decision is an important way of expressing care and support.