Tips to Support Survivors of Sexual Assault
Updated: Feb 10
Step 1. Hey! You made it! You’re here! You’re already looking into ways that you can help your friend. Thank you for taking the initiative. =)
There’s a chance that the survivor you know may be experiencing or may have experienced some of the following: trouble sleeping, depression (including suicidal thoughts, decreased energy, feelings of worthlessness), anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, weight gain/loss. These are some signs that they may be having difficulty coping with the situation. https://www.wm.edu/offices/wellness/counselingcenter/students/sexualassault/
I’ll tell you a few things that have helped me, with the help of some resources (including RAINN.org) that may help you help your friend, the survivor…
1. Listen. If a survivor is talking to you… listen. It isn’t easy to talk about. It isn’t fun to talk about. It’s not easy to hear. But if a survivor has gathered enough strength, courage and bravery to talk, please listen. Sometimes its therapeutic to talk about with friends or family (other than a therapist) to get validation and opinions from YOU rather than a neutral party. Also, believe them.
2. Patience. Maybe I talk about it too much. Maybe I am moody. Maybe I’m dwelling. Now, this doesn’t give me validation for treating others poorly. But I have a lot of anger and rage… thankfully I’m able to acknowledge it and try to harness it… most of the time. But sometimes there’s that “funk” that a person can get stuck in and they would benefit from comfort from a loved one to get out of it or to at least be pointed in the right direction. Have patience with the stages of grief the survivor may be going through. Have patience with the story. Have patience with their healing.
3. Be mindful / pay attention. Tell your friend if you see a serious problem – are they demonstrating red flags that need to be taken seriously? Are they giving you warning signs of depression? Are they giving any warning signs of wanting to harm themselves or others? Is the survivor partaking in unhealthy vices? Do they feel safe in their environment? Also, be mindful of yourself: Are you a secondary victim? Are you going through stages of grief as well?
5. Resources. Research local resources for your friend. For example, your local women’s shelter who may offer a sexual assault survivor support group. Does your friend have an advocate? Do they have a therapist? Do they have an outlet for their feelings?
6. Unreported Sexual Assault? RAINN (the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization) provides a hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673) to call, otherwise go to oneline.rainn.org. The victim can also be referred to their local ER or authorities.
7. Tips for talking. RAINN provides a page on their website for tips on how to talk to a sexual assault victim. https://www.rainn.org/articles/tips-talking-survivors-sexual-assault
Key terms they use on this link are:
a. “I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
b. “It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
c. “You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
d. “I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
This link also provides advice for continued support:
a. Avoid judgment.
b. Check in periodically.
c. Know your resources. – They also provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline link or phone number: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Unfortunately I don’t feel there is any magical, across-the-board answer for how to help support a survivor of sexual assault, because each survivor may be in a significantly different place than the next. And whatever “place” they’re in today might be different tomorrow. They could be in shock, then angry, then depressed, then superficially “fine,” then inconsolable, then maybe legitimately fine, or any of the stages of the grieving process.
The simple fact that you’ve done research and you’re reading this blog shows that your friend, the survivor, is important to you. Thank you for your support!