With the recent media coverage of the Richmond High School gang rape, many survivors of sexual assault have disclosed their experiences or are experiencing re-traumatization from their own assault. As with any traumatic event, survivors can react differently to the assault and will experience a multitude of emotions ranging from anger to sadness and grief so providing support will also be different for each situation. However, one thing is certain, survivors of sexual assault will need a network of support as they begin the journey towards healing and recovery and that network usually begins with their loved ones.
For many friends and families, it’s difficult to know what to say or do when a loved one discloses that they have been sexually assaulted. As a loved one, many times we will also experience an array of emotions when we learn that someone we care about has been hurt in such a way. Many times our first response is anger and disbelief, followed by feelings of revenge against the attacker and many times even anger towards the survivor. Others may want to question a survivor about what happened and question their choices, which can lead to victim-blaming statements such as “Why did you drink so much?” or “Look at what you were wearing” or “Why did you sneak out of the house in the first place?” It is important to always remember that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.
If you have a loved one who discloses that they have been sexually assaulted, here are some helpful tips for you to consider:
- VALIDATE how they feel
- Remind them that it is NOT their fault
- Allow them to keep control over the decisions they choose to make
- Let them know you are there for them, whatever they choose to do
- Always ask permission before you engage in physical contact (hug, hand holding, etc.)
- Do not tell them what they should do. Allow them to decide what they need to do.
- Provide any resources you are aware of (i.e. local Rape Crisis Center and Crisis Line)
- Don’t ask for specifics, but if they choose to disclose that to you, LISTEN
- If they do ask for your advice, remind them that this is about them and what THEY need and want to do
- Do not ask blaming questions (“Why did you go there?, Why did you where that?, etc.)
- Always remember that the journey to healing can be a very long journey so NEVER tell a survivor they should “get over it.” Everyone recovers and heals differently.
- Remember to also take care of yourself. You can’t be of support to someone if you don’t also support yourself .
As a loved one, you may also need to talk to someone about how you feel and what you can do to to support your loved one. You can contact your local rape crisis center for support for you and your loved one. To find a local rape crisis center in your California County, click here.
Below are some additional resources that may help you support your loved one:
If She is Raped: A Guide for Husbands, Father and Friends (Alan McEvoy)
Helping a Loved One (RAINN)
Significant Others and Sexual Assault Victims (PCAR)
Friends and Family are Secondary Victims
Practical Advice for the Significant Other (TAASA)