Despite the relative safety we often feel, almost everyone reading this has probably been affected by sexual assault in some capacity.
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
With that being said, it is important to know what to say and what not to say if someone you know opens up about their experience with sexual assault.
Here are 10 ways to offer the best support to a victim of sexual assault:
1. Listen with full attention
Give this person your undivided attention. This is not an easy thing to open up about, and it is important that the victim sees how much you care about them and what they have to say about their experience.
2. Acknowledge what happened to them, but do not push for answers
Letting them know that you are sorry for what they have been through is a good way to initially respond. This will show them how much you care for them. Trying to pry information out of the victim is not a good idea. They will tell you what they need to tell you, and sometimes they are not ready or willing to explain the full story.
3. Never, ever tell them that it is their fault
Telling someone that it is their fault or even alluding to that idea is possibly the worst thing to say. Do not analyze what they wore that day/night or tell them to be more careful. The fact of the matter is no one should have to go through this devastating experience. It is crucial to avoid making them feel bad about themselves or guilty because they will latch onto that thought.
4. Let them know that you believe them
Opening up about such a personal topic is not easy. In many cases, victims of sexual assault are scared to tell their friends, family, or the police about what happened to them because they do not think anyone will believe them. Let this person know that you DO in fact believe them.
5. Let them know that you are there to support them
Let the victim know that they are not alone and you have their back. Remind them that all their friends and family love and support them. Try to encourage them to reach out to professionals to talk about their personal sexual assault experience.
6. Do not tell anyone about their story without permission
Make sure the victim knows that you can be trusted with their personal information. Do not tell anyone about their experience without permission. If a minor tells you that they were sexually assaulted, let them know that you are required to tell an adult, and ask them who they trust with this information. Other than this specific case, keep the information confidential unless told otherwise by the victim.
7. Remind them that you love them just as much as you did before they told you
Some victims are scared that their friends and family will look at them differently. It is important to remind the victim that they are still the same person to you.
8. Ask them if they want to report the incident
It is important to ask the victim what they would like to do next. Do not force them to report the sexual assault or receive medical attention. Let them know that they are in control of the situation and what happens next. This is very important to the victim because they did not feel like they had any control during the sexual assault experience. If they choose to report the incident, offer to help them through the process.
9. Call them a survivor, not a victim
Avoid using the word ‘victim’ when talking about this person. The term survivor is more uplifting and hopeful, which shows more support during this experience. Remind them that they even though they have been through a traumatic experience, it is important to stay as positive and optimistic as possible.
10. Continue to check in with them after they tell you about their experience:
Just because they told you about their experience does not mean that they are going to be okay immediately after. Continue checking in with this person to see how they are doing. If their case goes to court, tell them you will help them get through it. Try your best to notice if anything seems off with them because this could be signs of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health disorders. Make sure they know how to reach out for professional help and know the resources they have.The best way to help others and yourself is to stay educated. If you have any questions or concerns about how to handle someone telling you about their sexual assault experience, or if you yourself have questions about your own sexual abuse, please check the RAINN website to learn more.