Along with the physical damage of sexual violence, the psychological and emotional aftermath make the road to recovery for survivors long, difficult and full of obstacles. Being a supportive family member or friend is an important part of a survivor’s healing process. Here are some suggestions taken from the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) website that may help you in approaching the situation:
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It’s often extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their stories. If they’ve chosen to share with you, be careful not to ask for more details than they offer– your job is to support them, not investigate. Be aware that calmness in victims doesn’t mean you should be skeptical about the assault or assume that it didn’t do serious damage. People respond to trauma differently, and the best thing you can do is believe them.
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may begin to blame themselves, especially if the perpetrator was someone familiar to them. Be sure to provide the survivor with affirmation that what happened was not their fault, maybe even more than once.
“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Assure survivors that they are not alone. Help them brainstorm local resources or individuals in their life who may provide a good support system. Be patient and remind them that you’ll be there throughout their healing process.
In the end, remember that there is no set timeline for the recovery period; it may become a long, ongoing process. It’s not always easy to know what to say to someone when she tells you she’s been sexually assaulted. Remember that words may not be as important as presenting a non-judgmental demeanor and becoming a supportive presence in her life.