When a person is sexually assaulted, their world is turned upside down. Not only has the survivor been violated in the most intimate way possible, they have to heal from the assault. But…how? Society is still afraid to talk openly about sexual assault or sexual abuse; people may not know how to approach the sexual assault survivor – afraid to say the wrong thing.
Every person who has been sexually violated responds differently to their experience – some become horribly depressed while others become very angry. All emotions are fair responses to sexual assault or sexual abuse.
Often a victim of sexual assault will only reach out once for help. If they reach out to you, your reaction is important.
A Timeline of Support
Immediately Following the Sexual Assault
- Always start by believing the person sharing this information.
- A person who has been sexually assaulted has had their power and control taken away, so it is important for those supporting a loved one to empower the survivor with choices without telling them what to do. Only the survivor knows best what they need in their healing process.
- People of all gender identities can be the victim of a sexual assault, even though sexual assault is most commonly thought of as a women’s issue. If your loved one who is disclosing that they were sexually assaulted is male, or identifies as transgender or non-binary/gender non-conforming, reassure them that they are believed.
- Encourage your loved one to see a doctor and receive proper medical attention after a sexual assault. She or he may need treatment for STDs or pregnancy testing after the assault. With this step, law enforcement will be contacted but the survivor will have a choice about making an actual report.
- Encourage your loved one to call our 24/7 anonymous and confidential hotline at (303) 322-7273 (English) or (303)329-0031 (Spanish) if they would like to speak with someone about their options. A Hospital Advocate from The Blue Bench can meet them at the Emergency Room.
- Let your loved one know they can report the assault. If your loved one does not want to report the sexual assault, respect that decision as theirs to make.
Shortly After the Sexual Assault
- Listen to your loved one who has been sexually assaulted. They may try to go over the assault again and again, replaying it in their mind. Listen without judgment as often as your loved one would like.
- Assure your loved one that they are not to blame for the sexual assault. Expect to do this often as your loved one tries to work out why they were the victim of sexual assault.
- Reassure your loved one that you will be by their side no matter what and that they are not alone.
- Reassure your loved one that no one “deserves” to be sexually violated.
- Remind your loved one that there is no right or wrong way to feel after a sexual assault. Many of the emotions of a sexual assault survivor can be confusing – especially to the survivor.
Long Term Support After a Sexual Assault
- Support your loved one in seeking therapy for the assault by finding a list of local therapists or support groups that specialize in working with survivors of sexual assault. Often, it is hard for a sexual assault survivor to take these steps on their own. The Blue Bench has these resources available.
- Remind your loved one that they are not to blame – the guilt and the “what ifs” can plague a survivor for a long time.
- Expect that your loved one will experience many emotions following a sexual assault. Feelings of anxiety, fear, humiliation, shame, guilt, anger, numbness and confusion are all common.
- Give them time – if your loved one indicates that s/he is still struggling, remind them that there is no timetable for recovering from a sexual assault. Recovery is a slow, gradual process.
- People of all gender identities can be the victim of a sexual assault, even though sexual assault is most commonly thought of as a women’s issue. If your loved one who is disclosing that they were sexually assaulted is male, or identifies as transgender or non-binary/gender non-conforming, continue to reassure them that they are believed.
- Help your loved one to feel that they are now safe. It may take time for a sexual assault survivor to feel safe and to begin participating in activities again – this is okay. If they ask for your companionship to various activities – including support groups – be sure to provide it if you can.
- Allow your loved one to make choices that are best for them. Being sexually assaulted is the ultimate type of loss of control over one’s environment. Don’t step in and try to take charge – allowing your loved one to make their own decisions is a step on their road to empowerment.
- Ask – rather than assume you know best – how best you can help your loved one. This can help your loved one begin the path to recovery and begin to rebuild trust.
- It’s natural to be overprotective of a loved one who has been sexually assaulted – however, your loved one may not appreciate being treated with “kid gloves” or coddled. ASK them what they want and need from you.
- If you are having a hard time coping with the feelings that the sexual assault has stirred up inside you, consider talking to a therapist or counselor about how to manage your OWN feelings.
Sometimes even the most well-meaning people can say the wrong thing to a victim of sexual assault. The list below will help ensure you are reacting in the most sensitive way possible.