How to Respond to a Survivor of a Sexual Assault
To Do or Say
- Believe the survivor.
- Be empathetic. – Identify with the survivor’s sorrow or sadness. Having the ability to connect to their feelings of pain makes it easier for the survivor to relax and open up.
- Acknowledge that a crime was committed against the survivor. – This helps dismiss any shame, guilt, self-blame the survivor may feel.
- Let them know they are not alone. – Many survivors isolate themselves for fear of rejection, judgment, etc. Let the survivor know you are there for them.
- Be a good listener. – This is key. For some reason, a survivor senses are heightened after a trauma. They can sense sincerity, whether you are listening and empathetic or not caring and apathetic.
- Be a safe place. – Be a trusted friend with whom they can share their thoughts, pains, emotions. The survivor needs a place they can go to where they can be themself and comfortable.
- Check on them periodically. – Call, drop by, email. Stay in contact with them
- Accept where the survivor is emotionally. You may not understand. If there is serious concern, seek help.
- Ask if you can help them in any way – Say phrases such as – What can I do to help you, can I do anything, how can I help you.
- Be there for them. – They need someone to talk to, who will listen to them.
- Be patient with their progress. – Sometimes healings can take five or more years, even a lifetime. Sometimes sex crimes have irreparable emotional and psychological damage.
- Be sincere. – Survivors can spot a fake.
- Direct survivor to professional help. – Know your limitations in advising the survivor. Do not diagnose.
- Give professional, medical resource suggestions. – Help them find a professional trained in trauma therapy. Spiritual counseling is not enough. Find a local resource.
- If the survivor talks about hurting themselves contact authorities or a professional.
- If the survivor is a minor contact the authorities.
- Avoid blaming the survivor. – Don’t use accusatory statements.
- Avoid judging the survivor. – Avoid judgment statements.
- Avoid saying “I know how you feel”. -You don’t know how the survivor feels, even if you are a survivor yourself. Every sex crime is different and every survivor reacts differently.
- Avoid criticizing the time it takes for them to recover. – Avoid statements such as, get over it, it’s taking you too long, don’t you think it’s time to move on, etc. – Some victims of crime never get over it. Be as patient as you can with them. Don’t expect them to act according to your interpretations.
- Avoid asking “why” questions. – Avoid questions such as, why did you go there, why didn’t you yell out, why did you drink, why did you go with him, etc. None of these questions will help the survivor heal. They will only distance you from their trust.
- Avoid giving health assessments or suggestions, other than suggesting that they seek professional help if needed. – The survivor is in a vulnerable place right now. Make sure your suggestions are helpful and healthy.
- Avoid gossiping about their trauma. – This will distance the survivor from you for a long time, maybe permanently.