Helping Adult Survivors
How you can help adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
Believe them. It is not your role to question whether a sexual assault occurred, but to be there to ease the pain. According to the FBI, false reports of sexual assault are no more nor less common than false reports of other violent crimes.
Help them explore their options. Don't take charge of the situation and pressure the survivor to do what you think they should. That's what the perpetrator did. Give them the freedom to choose a path of recovery that is comfortable for them, even if you'd do it differently. Remember, there is no one right way for a survivor to respond after being assaulted.
Listen to them. It is crucial that you let survivors in your lives know that they can talk to you about their experience when they are ready. Some may not wish to speak with you immediately, but at some point during the healing process, it is likely that the survivor will come to you for support. When that happens, don't interrupt, or yell, or inject your feelings. Just open your ears to the pain of being sexually assaulted. Your caring but silent attention will be invaluable.
Never blame them. No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted, abused or harassed. No matter what they wore, how many times they had sex before, whether they were walking alone at night, whether they got drunk, if they were married, or whether they went up to the perpetrator's room. Even if the survivor feels responsible, say clearly and caringly that being sexually assaulted wasn't their fault.
Ask before you touch. Don't assume that physical contact, even in the form of a gentle touch or hug, will be comforting to a survivor. Many survivors, especially within the first weeks after an assault, prefer to avoid sex or simple touching even by those they love and trust. Be patient, give them the space they need, and try your best not to take it personally.
Recognize that you've been affected too. We can't help but be hurt when someone we love is made to suffer. Don't blame yourself for the many feelings you will likely have in response to learning that someone close to you has been sexually assaulted. Sadness, confusion, anger, helplessness, fear, guilt, disappointment, shock, anxiety, desperation, and compassion are all common reactions for survivors and their significant others. Being aware of these emotions may ultimately help you better understand the survivor's experience and support them more effectively.
Get help for yourself. Whether you reach out to a friend, family member, counselor, religious official, or others, make sure you don't go through this experience alone. Most rape crisis centers offer counseling for significant others and family members because they realize that the impact of sexual assault extends far beyond the survivor. Keeping all your feelings inside will only make you less able to be there for the survivor. Remember, getting help when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Helping others recover from sexual assault is a difficult, yet extremely rewarding, process. As you work to help a loved one recover form sexual assault, let us help and support you. Call our helpline at 1-800-871-7741.