When someone shares with you that they have been sexually assaulted, your caring response will make all the difference. It can be intimidating to sit in these emotionally vulnerable moments. More than anything else, they need your support.
Things to Keep in Mind
It is important to remember that a sexual assault victim has been deprived of their right to control their own physical body and treated as an object to satisfy another’s selfish desires. Part of healing is to reestablish a sense of control and order to life. Let them make their own decisions. Make sure the victim knows you are available to help with whatever they decide.
- Listen and avoid judgment.
- Don’t attempt to find the reason why it happened.
- Let them talk about the assault in their own time; do not force the conversation.
- Understand that they may want to go into detail about the assault, or they might be vague.
- Check in periodically. This lets the survivor know you believe them and care about their wellbeing.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. The most powerful statement a friend can make is by simply being there.
- Knowing your resources will help you be
a strongersupport. Become familiar with resources, both on and off campus. (See resources fact sheet for on and off-campus resources.)
Positive Ways to Approach Conversation
What to Say to a Victim
- “I'm sorry this happened to you.”
- “It wasn't your fault.”
- “Thank you for telling me.”
- “I'm always here if you want to talk.”
- “Can I do anything for you?”
What Not to Say to a Victim
- “You could have avoided it had you _________.”
- “How much longer will you feel this way?”
- “It's not that big of a deal; it happens to lots of people.”
- “What were you wearing?”
Helping Yourself Helps
One of the most compassionate ways to help someone who has survived sexual violence is to practice good self-care. It is normal to feel emotions such as helplessness, guilt, shame, loss of intimacy, loss of routine, frustration, need for retaliation, overprotection, and anger. It is important to acknowledge these emotions and work through them. Self-care may include maintaining your lifestyle and making time to do things that promote a sense of wellness. It can be overwhelming if you only focus on the sexual assault. Consider speaking with a mental health professional. They will offer support to overcome difficult thoughts and feelings you may experience.
References Used: rainn.org, wsr.byu.edu, byu.edu/talks.
“Agency, Accountability, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ: Application to Sexual Assault,” Benjamin M. Ogles (Brigham Young University devotional, Jan. 30, 2018)