Helping a Loved One
Having supportive friends and family members can make a difference in how a survivor heals. There are several things you can do...
Listen. This is one of the most important ways you can help. Some survivors will want to talk right away. Others will need time. Rather than press them for details or ask a lot of questions, let them decide what to tell you. Try not to judge or interrupt with advice. Just listen.
Believe. Very few people ever lie about being sexually assaulted. Many survivors never tell anyone at all; they’re too ashamed or afraid they’ll be disbelieved or blamed. And hard as it is for a woman to confide in you, it can be even harder for a male survivor or a child. Simply hearing“I believe you” from someone they trust can be an important step in their healing.
Don’t blame or second-guess your friend (“why did you leave the party with him?” or “why didn’t you scream?”). Nobody “asks” to be raped. Many survivors already blame themselves. Help them understand that the perpetrator is the one responsible (“Yes, you got drunk. But you would never have been raped if there hadn’t been a rapist in the room.” “You’re here. You’re safe now. That means you did what you needed to do to survive.”).
Ask how you can help. Sexual assault takes away a person’s sense of control, so allow your friend to make her or his own decisions. But you can offer to accompany them to the hospital or help them get information.
Respect their privacy and don’t share what they have told you with anyone else unless they ask you to. Let your friend decide whom to confide in.
Understand that your friend has been through a traumatic experience and may act differently after the assault. Recovery can take a long time; they won’t be “over it” in a few weeks or months or even years. Learning about survivors’ common reactions to an assault may help.
Take care of yourself as well. You will likely feel a whole range of strong and conflicting emotions; these may even include anger at the survivor or yourself as well as at the perpetrator. To avoid burying these feelings or expressing them in hurtful ways, it can be important to talk about them. However the survivor is not the person you should do this with. Resources are available for you too: call the Watertown Resource Center 605-886-4300 or 1-800-660-8014