How Family and Friends Can Help

If a family member or friend has been sexually assaulted, the way you react can greatly influence how that person recovers.

The survivor is not to blame. Whatever happened before the attack, whether the survivor fought or not, the best possible choice was made to come out of the situation alive. Sexual assault is an act of humiliation and degradation. NO ONE asks for it.

The survivor will feel powerless and possibly be very afraid of injury, mutilation, and death. Over a period of time she may feel very alone and distrustful, be sometimes quiet, sometimes irritable and unpredictable, with moods changing quite suddenly. She may blame herself at times and also be very angry with others. She will still be afraid.

It is important that the survivor knows that you love and care for her. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Allow her to regain control over her life, make her own decisions. Don’t overprotect.
  • Treat her no differently than before. Continue to live the way you always have, providing stability and security.
  • Communicate your acceptance through naturalness. Be willing to listen if she wants to talk, but do not force her to talk if she does not want that. She may feel more comfortable talking to someone else just now. That’s OK too.
  • Do not urge the survivor to “forget” or hide the assault. This may delay the healing process.
  • The most important thing to do is show your affection. This reassures the survivor of your love and concern, breaking down those feelings of aloneness. There are many ways to do this; sometimes being touched does not feel quite right at first. If you have an intimate relationship reassure her that you will wait until she is ready to make the first move.

If a family member or friend has been sexually assaulted, it is quite common for you to feel disbelief, maybe “numb,” guilty, helpless and angry. You may blame the survivor for the assault. The survivor is very sensitive to other people’s reactions to the assault. That is why sometimes they may tell no one of the assault, fearing the possible consequences of the reactions.

Blaming the survivor or wanting to “kill” the assailant will not help the survivor’s recovery. You may want to talk to someone about your feelings and how you can best help.