Helping someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted
It can be hard to know what to do to help a friend or family member who has been raped or sexually assaulted. Here are some tips on what to do (and what not to do) and how to cope yourself.
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?”
- DO respect them enough to not pity them.
- DON’T assume they that they do or don’t want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug at this point; others can’t make it without one.
- DO comfort them. Bring a cup of tea and a blanket. Play soft music. Make the environment comfortable.
- DON’T try to solve all the problems for them. They have already have had control taken away from them; try to avoid doing that again.
- DO offer to accompany them to their first therapy session.
- DON’T demand to know every detail of the rape or abuse.
- DO allow them to tell you as much or as little as they need to.
- 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
- 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.
Depending on your relationship with the survivor and the trust they have in you, they may experience a flashback or panic attack in your presence. It can be frightening and difficult to know what to do during a situation like this, but here are a few suggestions.
- Remind the survivor of where they are. Ask them to sit down and place their feet on the floor. Describe their surroundings to them and ask them to do the same.
- Remind the survivor to take deep breaths.
- If the survivor has medication they are prescribed to take during panic attacks, such as Xanax, remind them if they need it, it is available.
Remember that during flashbacks, the survivor is often actually reliving the abuse or assault. Be cautious in your actions, and get to know the survivor and what she needs before you do anything at all. Here are a few suggestions.
- Name it. Not everyone realizes that what they’re suffering is a flashback.
- Tell the survivor that you know it feels real to them, but that it is not really happening.
- Turn a soft light on.
- Turn triggering music or television shows off.
- Get to know the survivor’s triggers as well as you can.
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