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Supporting Someone Who Has Been Raped or Sexually Assaulted

Don't Take Control

Sexual abuse makes people feel invaded, changed and out of control; try to imagine how this feels, and try to do what helps them rather than what makes you feel better - listen to what they want. It is crucial that they be able to make their own decisions and regain influence over what happens in their lives in order to rebuild trust and strength.

It is common for loved ones, themselves distressed, to step in and be too protective, or to treat them differently and make their decisions for them, all of which can add to their frustration. Ask them how they want to be helped, and in trying to do this you'll help rebuild their trust.

Do Help Them to Feel Safe

Help them to feel safe and take part in things again, but only at their own pace and in ways they feel are best. Knowing they can talk to you about feeling unsafe and can ask for your companionship when they need it, will be reassuring as they tackle difficult things.

Don't Frighten Them

Don't come up behind them or touch them unexpectedly or in a way that reminds them of the assault. They may want to be held and comforted, or prefer not to be until they feel safe - ask what feels best.

Don't feel offended if they find it difficult to be close, emotionally or, if you are their partner, sexually, after the assault. It is not that they feel you might assault them but that it may recall their feelings of violation and fear.

Encourage them to say what is comfortable and safe and how they want to spend their time with you. If you find that there is an emotional distance between you following the assault, try not to blame them or put pressure on them to forget it quickly. Seek support for yourself from someone who may understand - feeling guilt or pressure will only make it harder for them to work through the experience. Feeling that you are listening and responding on the other hand will help them to re-establish feelings of closeness and trust.


 

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Don't Direct Anger at Them

Don't direct the anger and frustration you are likely to feel about the assault at the survivor. They will already be worried that what has happened to them will hurt those close to them.

Reassure them that you know it isn't their fault, and if you do feel anger, make it very clear that it is directed towards those who committed the assault and not them. Remember that threatening to take the law into your own hands is not helpful; it can make them feel even more unsafe, make them distressed to see you so upset, or could worry them that you'll get into trouble or get hurt. It can also make them feel out of control of the situation and that their needs are again being ignored.

You may need to ask friends or other trusted people for support and ideas about how to deal with your own understandable feelings of anger and frustration.

Don't Blame Yourself

Don't blame yourself for what happened because you weren't with them, hadn't protected them, etc. The responsibility lies solely with those who committed the assault.

Don't Speak for Them

Don't speak for them unless they specifically want you to. When friends, the police, the doctor, etc., ask how they feel, always let them speak for themselves. If they want to talk to someone who isn't emotionally close to them, make it clear that they can choose whether or not you are with them.

Do Encourage a Medical Checkup

Remember that whether or not they choose to report the assault to the police, they should have a medical check-up, and may need pregnancy, HIV or STD tests, although again, remember not to put pressure on them.

Don't Expect Too Much of Yourself

They may need different types of support from different people. No one person can do everything for them. It can help you too to know that they can go to other people for support if they choose to. Sometimes, a counselor or trusted friends and colleagues can help in ways those closest to them can't.

You won't be able to magically make everything better straight away, but by showing them that you believe them, that you don't blame them, and that you want to help them regain control of their life, by listening, respecting their feelings and views and showing you care, you can make a great difference and help them begin to heal again.

next: Tori Amos on Being a Rape Survivor
~ all Escaping Hades articles
~ all abuse library articles
~ all articles on abuse issues

Last Updated: 02 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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