How to Help a Friend
It’s normal to feel upset
When someone you know or care about has been assaulted, it is normal for you to feel upset and confused. At a time when you may want to help most, you will be dealing with a crisis of your own. This guide may help you know what you can do to support person who has been sexually assaulted.
The victim needs your support
Your support at a time like this can be extremely helpful to a sexual assault victim. Consider the following guidelines to help you through this time:
- Believe the victim. Believe their experience without question.
- Do not blame them. Whatever the circumstances, they were not looking for or asking to be assaulted. It is very common for the victim of a sexual assault to blame themselves. Reassure them that the blame for rape rests squarely and only with the assailant and that they had no way of knowing what would have happened if they had acted differently.
- Respect the victim. Respect their fear. Assailants commonly threaten to kill or seriously harm the victim if they do not comply. Most victims feared that they would not survive the assault. This fear does not go away when the rapist does. This fear is real. Help them deal with it by finding ways to increase their safety.
- Accept the victim. Accept their strong feelings. They have the right to any emotion. They have the right to be numb, sad, angry, in denial, terrified, depressed, agitated, withdrawn, etc. Being supportive is an attitude of acceptance of all of their feelings, an atmosphere of warmth and safety that they can rest in. Tolerate their needs, be there for them.
- Listen to the victim. Let them know you want to listen. It does not matter so much what you say, but more how you listen. Try to understand what they are going through. They did the very best they knew how in a dangerous situation. They survived. Give them credit.
- Let them talk, do not interrupt.
- Find time to focus on the victim. Ask them what they need from you.
- You may feel nervous about stalls and silences. They are okay, just let them happen.
- If they need help to continue talking, try repeating back to them the things they expressed.
- Reassure them that they are not to blame. Blaming questions such as, "Why didn't you scream?" or "Why did you go there?" are not helpful. Instead, you might say, "It's difficult to scream when you are frightened" or "Going someplace unfamiliar is risky, but you were not asking to be assaulted."
- Take them seriously. Pay attention. This will help them validate the seriousness of their feelings and their need to work them through. Sexual assault is a shattering experience which a victim may not get over in a hurry or alone. It may be months or years before they feel fully recovered. Recovery is a process of acceptance and healing which takes time.
- Stay with the victim. Stay with them as long as they want you to. One of the most upsetting losses experienced by rape victims is the loss of independence and solitude. For a while, many victims feel too frightened and vulnerable to endure being alone. This will pass with time. Meanwhile, be good company.
- Let the victim make their own decisions. Do no pressure them into making decisions or doing things they are not ready to do. Help them explore all the options. It is essential to respect their confidentiality. Let them decide who knows about the sexual assault.
- Care. Care about their well-being. In order to care about your friend, you may need to cope with some difficult emotions of your own. If you are experiencing rage, blame or changes in how you feel about your friend/relative, you can be most helpful to them by finding ways of coping with your own emotions. Sexual assault is not provoked nor desired by the victim. In fact, sexual assault is motivated by the assailant's need for power and control and his desire to humiliate and degrade the victim. Someplace Safe has trained staff and volunteers who are available to help people sort through their own feelings and emotions.
Source: Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault at http://www.mncasa.org/how-to-help-someone-else