Sadly, sexual assault is a common enough crime that you are likely to know someone who is a survivor. If someone comes to you with a story of sexual assault, abuse or rape, learn how to be the support system the victim needs to aid in the healing process. While every case is unique, there are steps you can take to make someone feel safe, heard and believed.
In many cases, simply making yourself available and being there for a victim can help immensely. Telling someone about sexual abuse is a difficult and often overwhelming task for a victim. Victims may stay silent for fear of not being believed or of being blamed for the incident. You can help alleviate these fears by presenting yourself as someone who is available to listen and who will not judge them if they want to talk.
It has taken a lot for a victim of sexual assault to confide in you. During this difficult and emotional time, they need a calm, supportive presence. While you may be alarmed about what your loved one is telling you, do your best to remain calm and do not let your feelings overcome you. Do not react with intense pain, confusion, shock or anger. Wait until your friend or family member is gone to deal with your own emotions about the incident.
Avoid Victim Blaming
The last thing you want to do is blame a victim for what happened. You may not realize, however, that certain words and phrases can trigger a guilt reaction in a victim. Asking what the victim was doing leading up to the attack, for example, can make the victim feel like they caused the event. Avoid victim blaming by reminding the person that the assault was not their fault and that they did not do anything to deserve being targeted.
Offer Your Company
If the victim wishes to obtain a sexual assault forensic exam in the hours or days after the attack, offer your accompaniment. This type of medical evaluation can be physically and emotionally challenging for a victim to go through. They may feel vulnerable, nervous and exposed. Going with the victim to the hospital and – if the victim wishes – being in the room during the exam could potentially go a long way toward making the victim feel safer and more comfortable.
In the aftermath of a sexual assault, especially in the early days, a survivor may not be in the right mental state to search for resources. You can help by gathering a few resources for them. This can include the phone number for a sexual assault hotline, sexual assault support groups in your community, women’s shelters, clinics and therapists. Do not push the victim into anything, though; simply let them know that resources are available if and when they choose to seek help.
Empower the Victim
While you should never pressure a victim into reporting an attack to the police, let the victim know that help and legal recourse are available. The victim needs time to come to the decision to report an attack on their own. Never share the details of a victim’s experience without their permission
Instead, offer to accompany them if they wish to report the attack to the police or other authorities. If your loved one wishes to pursue a legal claim against the perpetrator with a Kansas sexual assault attorney, support them in this endeavor by asking how you can help. Many times, the best form of support is simply just being there.