When a loved one is assaulted

When someone you know is sexually assaulted, it can be a terrifying time for them and may leave you wondering how you can help.

The person who has been sexually assaulted may need medical care and to file a police report. However, they first need to feel safe, be believed, be reminded they were not at fault and be able to feel like they are in control of their circumstances. They may look to you as a safe person to come to and share what has happened to them. But you may ask yourself, what can I do to help?
One of the most important ways you can help someone is to keep in mind that each person has to make his or her own decisions, and there is no right or wrong way to react. The following points are from a sexual assault survivor guide that was prepared by the College of Saint Benedict’s Counseling and Health team, and I felt it was great information to share here:
1. Believe them. The most common reason many people choose not to tell anyone about sexual assault is the fear that the listener won’t believe them. If someone tells you, it’s because they trust you and need to talk to someone.
2. Don’t blame them. Another common fear in telling someone about a sexual assault is that the person will think it was somehow their fault. Don’t question why they were at the location, what they were wearing, if they were drinking, etc. NO ONE deserves to be sexually assaulted - no matter what. Sexual assault is always the fault of the assaulter, not the survivor.
3. Offer shelter. If possible, stay with the person at a comfortable, reassuring place.
4. Be there and give comfort. The survivor may need to talk a lot or at odd hours at the beginning. Be there as much as you can and encourage the survivor to talk to others.
5. Be patient. Don’t try to rush the healing process or “make it better.” Individuals do not heal at the same pace.
6. Validate the survivor’s feelings: their anger, pain and fear. These are natural, healthy responses. They need to feel them, express them and be heard.
7. Express your compassion. If you have feelings of outrage, compassion, pain for their pain, do share them. There is probably nothing more comforting than a genuine human response. Just make sure your feelings don’t overwhelm theirs.
8. Resist seeing the survivor as a victim. Continue to see them as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming their own life.
9. Accept the person’s choice of what to do about the assault. Don’t be overly protective. Ask what is needed, help the survivor list some options, then encourage independent decision-making, even if you disagree. It is very important that the survivor make decisions and have them respected, as it can go a long way in helping them regain a sense of control in their lives.
10. Stay friends. Don’t pull away from the friendship because it’s too hard for you to handle: that will make the person feel like there is something wrong with them.
11. Respect their privacy. Don’t tell anyone who doesn’t have to know. Don’t gossip about it with mutual friends.
12. LISTEN. Try to be supportive without giving advice. You really can’t know what is best for someone else. In sexual assault, a survivor’s power over body and feelings has been temporarily taken away; the person needs support to take that power back, beginning with making his or her own decisions.
13. Get help. Sometimes a person needs medical attention or other emergency help or support from other people besides friends. You can help your friend find the resources that are needed.
14. Help yourself. When someone you care about is sexually assaulted, it affects you in a very deep way. You have your own needs and feelings which are probably somewhat different than your friend’s. Find someone you can go to without violating your friend’s confidence.
Over time, people can and do survive sexual assault. It is much easier if they have support from people they trust. You may be able to be that person for someone close to you. Crisis Services of North Alabama is also here to help. We offer compassionate listening, crisis counseling, support groups, referrals and court advocacy. Our services are free and confidential. Contact your Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.

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