Here is what you can say.
When supporting a survivor of sexual violence, it is important to listen, not to be judgmental and not to take control away from the survivor. If you can find a way to communicate with these kinds of statements, it will generally assist in healing:
“I believe you.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I support you, and I am always available if and when you are ready to talk.”
Things you can do to help support them:
- Ensure the survivor is at a safe location away from the perpetrator. If not, consider helping him or her to a safe place when doing so does not pose a safety risk to you.
- If a threat to the survivor’s immediate safety exists, or the survivor requires emergency medical care, call 911.
- If the survivor requires less than emergency care, be patient. Remember, it will take them some time to deal with the crime.
- Help empower them. Sexual assaults are crimes that take away an individual’s power. It is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on a survivor to do things they are not ready to do.
- Other than safety and health-related questions, try to refrain from asking the survivor for details about the assault.
- Be a good listener. Keep from second-guessing or assigning blame. Show interest in what they say and ask what you can do to help.
- Let them know that professional help is available at HopeWorks for information, support and advocacy. The 24/7 Helpline number is 410.997.2272.
- Offer to stay with them. Survivors are sometimes reluctant to be alone after an assault.
- Encourage them to report the sexual assault to law enforcement, usually by calling 911. If they have questions about the criminal justice process, talking to a Helpline advocate can help.
- If they want to seek medical attention or report the assault, offer to accompany them to the hospital or other places if they request it. A Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) can be completed at the Emergency Department of Howard County General Hospital or these other hospitals in Maryland. A FREE exam to treat injuries and collect evidence can be completed whether or not your loved one decides to involve the police. The exam must be completed within the first 120 hours after the assault.
- Many survivors try to blame themselves because they think the sexual assault would have been prevented had they done something differently. In most cases, survivors have very little control over the outcome of a situation once a perpetrator decides to commit a sexual assault. Again, remind them that it is not their fault and avoid giving an opinion about what has happened.
- Always respect the survivor’s confidentiality. Do not tell others about the survivor’s assault without the survivor’s explicit consent.
- Encourage them to engage in self-soothing activities as a way to cope.
- If you are dealing with an assault involving your child, create a safe place by talking directly to them. RAINN offers tips for talking to your child if you suspect they are being sexually abused.
- Take care of yourself too. It is important to note that having a friend of family member who is sexually assaulted can be an upsetting experience. Recognize your anger and other emotions. Make sure to take care of your needs, as the survivor is not in a position to take care of you. You too can can call our Helpline for support.
When to step in.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to recover from a sexual assault. However, there are unhelpful, self-destructive ways of coping. Alcohol abuse, drug use, suicidal statements or increased behaviors with unhealthy outcomes (unprotected and/or anonymous sex, gambling, smoking, overeating, etc.) are sometimes warning signs that your friend needs to get professional assistance. Don’t be afraid to suggest that your friend might need support from someone especially skilled to help him or her adopt more productive coping strategies.