Sexual assault survivors deserve care, compassion, and support. However, not everyone provides these individuals with the level of support they need in the aftermath of an assault. This can lead to further trauma to the survivor, including the development of mental illnesses and a decreased willingness to seek justice against the perpetrator. If you know someone who was recently the victim of a sexual assault, you can take the following steps to support him or her through this difficult time.
It takes a great deal of courage for someone to open up about his or her sexual assault to you. If the survivor is confiding in you, this means that he or she trusts that you will be present and supportive. Make sure to listen to the survivor carefully and act when he or she is telling his or her story. If the survivor does not want to tell the story of the assault specifically, let him or her know that you are available to listen to whatever he or she does want to share.
While you are listening, do not interrupt the survivor or press him or her on details that he or she does not want to share. Do not try to hug or touch the survivor unless he or she gives consent – physical space is important after a traumatic assault, and you do not want to cause further harm to the survivor.
#2: Believe His or Her Story
The most important way to support a sexual assault survivor is to believe his or her story, and to make it very clear that you believe him or her. Many survivors refrain from seeking help because they believe that no one will trust their story and take them seriously – but if you assure the survivor that you believe him or her, your support can help him or her heal.
Do not assume that the survivor already knows that you believe and support him or her. While it may be clear to you, it will not always be an obvious fact. State your belief directly and clearly to the survivor so that he or she knows that he or she can count on you.
#3: Continue to Provide Support
While it may be obvious to support a survivor soon after his or her assault occurred, he or she may need ongoing support as the months or years pass. It is very easy to feel alone in the aftermath of an assault, and you want to ensure that the survivor knows that he or she can count on you for support.
Keep listening to the survivor whenever he or she wants to share something with you. If he or she is hurting in an emotional way, allow him or her to feel those feelings – going through the stages of anger, fear, hurt, and sadness is important for healing. Instead, offer your support as he or she works through those emotions.
If you have the capacity to do so, ask the survivor if he or she needs any other forms of support. He or she may need help going to doctor’s appointments or meeting his or her attorney, cooking meals and keeping the house clean, or even just getting out of his or her home and spending time with a loved one. While the survivor may not need anything at the time, it is important to make it clear that you are available to help whenever he or she needs it.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, support and compassionate care are necessary for healing. In addition, you have the right to seek justice from the perpetrator of the assault through a personal injury lawsuit and through a criminal trial. However, you will need a sexual assault attorney to guide you through the process. Contact an attorney as soon as possible following the assault to begin building your case.