How Do I Help?

Originally posted at Learn.Love.Live.

When a friend tells you she’s been raped, sexually abused or assaulted, you may be shocked, confused, and angry. Telling people is one of the hardest things to do, and your actions can affect a large part of the healing process. Here are my suggestions on what friends, family, and partners of rape and sexual abuse survivors can do to help.

What to say to a rape or sexual abuse survivor:
I’m sorry this happened to you.
It wasn’t your fault.
You survived; obviously you did the right things.
Thank you for telling me.
I’m always here if you want to talk.
Can I do anything for you?

What NEVER to say to a survivor:
It was your fault.
You could have avoided it had you ____________.
It’s been so long! Get over it!
You wanted it.
It’s not that big of a deal; it happens to lots of people.
I don’t believe you. (that’s the very worst thing to say)

DO respect her enough to not pity her.

DON’T assume she does or doesn’t want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug at this point; others can’t make it without one.

DO comfort her. Bring a cup of tea and a blanket. Play soft music. Make the environment comfortable.

DON’T try to solve all the problems for her. She has had her control taken away from her; try to avoid doing that again.

DO offer to accompany her to her first therapy session.

DON’T demand to know every detail of the rape or abuse.

DO allow her to tell you as much or as little as she needs to.

Further Suggestions…

review facts and myths about sexual abuse and assault
It is crucial to understand the basic facts, and for secondary survivors to examine their own attitudes and feelings in order to be a positive support. Don’t allow the myths to affect how you perceive the survivor.

as a secondary survivor, you are also affected
Crisis centers and lines are available to help you also. Call RAINN: 1-800-656-HOPE. Consider seeking therapy yourself (however, don’t see the same therapist as your friend)

helping yourself helps the survivor
There is no reason to feel guilty or selfish for taking care of yourself and your many emotions. It is normal to feel the following and more: helplessness – guilt – shame – loss of intimacy – loss of routine – frustration – need for retaliation – overprotection – anger

aim to find the difference between being supportive and overbearing
I can’t give you exact definitions. The supportive friend is there when I need to talk, is open to hearing what I have to say, and doesn’t always press for more. The overbearing friend is constantly checking up on me, forces me to talk to her, and tries to solve my problems for me.

don’t be afraid of silence
If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. The most powerful statement a friend can make is by simply being there, not trying to fix everything or pretending it’s okay. Silence often says more than words.

For more information on helping survivors of sexual assault please visit Welcome to Barbados.


~ by After Silence on August 29, 2009.

5 Responses to “How Do I Help?”

  1. Thank you for your posts. I am a survivor, and this is such a good thing that you are doing -putting these resources and this info out there. I can’t tell you how many times I have been blamed…just reading these words helps. Thank you so much.

  2. Michelle – you are most welcomed. It means so much to know that I have helped someone. Hugs (if that is okay)!

  3. […] Not to Say to a Survivor of Sexual Assault How Do I Help? Tips for Friends and Family of Sexual Assault Survivors Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

  4. When I tried to tell my mother about the sexual abuse (though admittedly I didn’t tell her it was actually rape), she said (a) that I had “misinterpreted” his actions (“he lives children, he was just being affectionate”) and later (b) that I was “inventing” the story to avoid visiting this man and his family. Hmm.

    Bizarely, my mother and I get on well, but these words haunt me often. Being told that sexual abuse is not serious or, even worse, a lie, is not a good thing to say to someone who’s been through it, regardless of the perpetrator’s identity.

    Thank you for posting this information; I do hope someone who otherwise wouldn’t have a clue what to say/do might come across it, and be better informed. This applies, indeed, to your entire blog.

  5. I wish my ex-friends had seen this. Most of them didn’t believe me or blamed me for it. What you are doing is so so so wonderful. Not only is it a guide to friends and family of survivors, it also reminds us survivors that there are people out there that believe you and care.

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