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For Family, Friends, and Supporters
Supporting a survivor of sexual assault can be difficult, and can bring up some feelings for you too as a family member or friend. It’s important to be compassionate and patient both with yourself and the other person, and focus on what is best for her or him in the moment.
Remember that what happened is never the survivor’s fault. In a supportive role, it is best to listen without judgment and provide information if needed.
Although it may be difficult, encourage conversation around the issue. The following RESPECT list will help you respond appropriately if someone you know discloses that they have been sexually assaulted:
- (R)esponsibility. Communicate to the survivor that the assault was not their fault even if the survivor feels they engaged in behavior that may have been risky. There is a difference between accountability and responsibility.
- (E)mpathy. Believe the survivor. Try to understand what the person has experienced. Think about as time when you felt vulnerable or faced a crisis, and think of what helped you the most. Chances are that it was not a specific conversation that you had, but it was the knowledge and comfort your friends were there for you, believed in you, were on your side and were committed to seeing you through a hard time. These are the things that will help your friend through the healing process.
- (S)upport. The survivor needs someone to turn to for physical and emotional support and for validation of their experience. If a survivor confides in you this means there is already an element of trust that exists. If they feel supported by you, they may be more likely to seek further assistance. This is crucial for the survivor to begin the recovery process.
- em(P)ower. Survivors of sexual assault may feel out of control and powerless. They may not trust their ability to make sound decisions. It is vital for survivors to regain their sense of personal power and belief in their own decision-making. Pushing the survivor into taking actions for which they are not ready may re-victimize them and strip them of their sense of personal power and control. You can best help the survivor by providing options and allowing them to decide. Regardless if you agree with their decision, support their choice.
- (E)nsure safety. Survivors often feel unsafe after the assault, both in the immediate aftermath and for any given amount of time after the fact. Encourage them to take appropriate safety measures. This can include changing door and window locks, staying with a friend or have a friend stay with them, and considering transferring jobs/schools or even moving.
- (C)omfort. The survivor may experience fear, shock, or any range of emotions and nee immediate comfort from someone they trust. Simply ask the survivor what they need. Don’t assume you know what the survivor wants.
- (T)reatment. Seeking treatment is a very personal decision that belongs alone to the survivor. However, you may provide information or resources so he or she has options. Please respect whatever choices the survivor makes. Be patient. Remember, it will take time to deal with the initial feelings and challenges. Provide information about the resources that are available, and allow the survivor to choose what to do with it. Encourage her or him to contact RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Realize that the only person who can decide to reach out for help is the survivor.