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How to Help a Survivor of Sexual Assault

Learning that a loved one has been sexually assaulted is a heartbreaking and sometimes shocking experience. As the recipient of this information, it can be difficult to know what to say and do, especially if the assault has occurred recently and the survivor is seeking immediate help.

Clear, effective and heartfelt communication is key to helping survivors post-assault and is important for their wellbeing as well as yours. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) lists the following as ways you can help:

• Remain calm. You may feel shocked or outraged, but expressing these emotions to the survivor may cause confusion or discomfort.

• Believe the survivor. Make it clear that you believe the assault happened and that the assault is not the survivor's fault.

• Give the survivor control. Control was taken away during the assault. Empower the survivor to make decisions about what steps to take next, and try to avoid telling them what to do.

• Be available for the survivor to express a range of feelings: crying, screaming, being silent, etc. Remember, the survivor is angry with the person who assaulted them and the situation, not with you. Just be there to listen.

• Assure the survivor of your support. They need to know that regardless of what happened, your relationship will remain intact.

• Avoid making threats against the suspect. Threats of harm may only cause the survivor to worry about your safety and risk of arrest.

• Maintain confidentiality. Let the survivor decide who to tell about the assault.

• Encourage counseling. Give the survivor the hotline number for the nearest rape crisis center, but let the survivor decide whether or not to call.

• Ask before offering physical support. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the survivor's sense of security, safety, and control.

• Say what you can guarantee. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as saying the survivor will never be hurt again, or that the offender will be put in jail.

• Allow the proper authorities to deal with the assault. Confronting the person who committed the sexual assault may be harmful or dangerous. Attempting to investigate or question others who may know about the assault may hamper a legal investigation. Leave this to the proper authorities.

• Be patient and recognize that healing can take years with advances and setbacks.

• Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings.

If you need help getting in contact with your local rape crisis center or advocacy group, contact us and we'd be happy to help connect you.

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