how to respond to sexual assault survivor

What would you say if you friend came to you and told you they were sexually assaulted? Like most people, you would probably be at a loss for words. How are you supposed to respond to something like that, especially if you have never experienced anything like it yourself? Knowing what to say can be hard, yet for the survivor what you say is critically important. With statistics like 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men would suffer from sexual assault, you most likely know someone who has been through that experience. Sadly, sexual violence is a very real issue in our world regardless of where you live or who you are. This is an issue that affects people everywhere, every day.

So, what should you say if that friend approaches you and tells you what happened? Where do you go from there? If you are ever in that situation, there are three main points that you need to make to your friend. Be sure to tell them that you believe them, it is not their fault, and they have options and resources for moving forward.

First…

Make sure they know you believe them. Fear of not being believed is one of the leading reasons given for why a survivor doesn’t want to open up about something that happened to them. By letting the survivor know straight away that you believe what they are saying, you have the ability to reduce their stress and anxiety by a substantial amount. Furthermore, if a survivor opens up to somebody and is met with disbelief, this decreases their chances of ever opening up to anyone about it ever again – meaning that they cannot get the help they need. Avoid this by telling them right away that you believe them.

Second…

Tell them that it is not their fault. Far too often do people who experience sexual assault feel as if they are to blame, but in reality the only person at fault is the perpetrator. Nothing that the survivor did caused them to be assaulted, the person who did decided to continue on with a sexual act without consent is the one who caused it. End of story. Make sure that your friend knows that they did nothing to bring this upon themselves. Let them know that as a friend, you are there for them and support them. An assault is a betrayal of trust so be the person that they can confide in now matter how little they share.

Third…

Be sure to share with them the options and resources they have for moving forward. These options can look different for different people. For some, it is to call the police – however, it is important to know to not call the police unless the survivor chooses to do so. If they are not ready to report, do not push them to do it. Enough power has been taken out of their hands already, don’t make them go through the process of reporting an assault unless they choose to do so themselves. For others, support can come through therapy. This is a great tool worth utilizing regardless of if you have ever gone to therapy before. While it can be intimidating to go into a therapy session for the first time, it’s important to know that those feelings of nervousness are normal and that it will be worth it if they choose to pursue therapy. Another option for some people is connecting them with faith leaders who can help guide them through the healing process. Outside of these resources, the National Sexual Assault Hotline’s phone number is 1-800-656-4673 and they are open 24/7. Other local resources may be available, such as a support group, so look up those options as well.

you believe them, it is not their fault, and that they have options and resources for moving forward, you too can help your friend heal – even if you feel that you are at a loss of words when you’re told what happened.