8 ways to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fight to end sexual assault is anywhere near finished. We’re far from rape survivors receiving the care they deserve from law enforcement and healthcare providers, and that’s just the start of it. Sexual assault is more prevalent than even the most empathetic people might believe, and things that often aren’t widely considered to be sexual assault should be treated as such.
With a broader understanding of what constitutes sexual assault, we’re more likely to find a loved one who needs our support after experiencing an offense. Although it’s not always clear how to best help a friend through their recovery, there are some surefire ways you can be there for them, because, more than anything else, they just need to know they’re not alone.
Here are eight things you can do to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted.
1Validate them and their feelings every chance you get
As The Healing Center puts it, “Survivors need to hear that they are believed and that it was not their fault.” Your job is not necessarily to try to make them feel better about what happened, because it’s likely that nothing you say will change the way they feel after such a traumatic experience. However, simply listening, believing, and validating whatever your friend wishes to tell you will be the most supportive thing you can do. Check out resources like RAINN for more information about reporting sexual assault to authorities.
2Offer guidance and support in reporting their assault to authorities
It’s difficult for sexual assault survivors to properly report what’s happened to the authorities. We don’t just mean emotionally—it can even be expensive for victims to pay for associated medical costs. As a result, plenty of survivors choose not to pursue legal action or proper medical treatment, and this is something you can help with by contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline or even driving them to and from a clinic or shelter. While your friend processes their emotions, it can be helpful for you to manage some of the logistical matters if they allow you to.
3Make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well
Helping a friend who experienced sexual assault can take a major toll on your own emotions as well, and it’s important to make sure that you’re also setting up a support system for yourself if it feels like you need some help of your own. You will be able to help your friend more effectively if you personally feel safe and strong.
4Avoid any possibly victim-blaming questions
We all should avoid asking a sexual assault survivor questions like “What were you wearing?” or “Were you flirting with them?” It can be tempting to ask these questions even if you don’t mean to victim-blame, simply because you’re trying to understand their experience. But these inquiries can do great harm to a victim by implying that they did anything to inflict this upon themselves. They did nothing to deserve this and that’s important to remember when speaking to anyone about sexual assault, particularly your friend.
5Respect their wishes with how they deal with their recovery
Everyone deals with sexual assault differently. While you might be someone who needs to talk through things, maybe your friend doesn’t want to talk about it at all. It’s important to let them heal in their way. Ask them what they need and then respect their wishes. Don’t ever try to force them into doing or saying something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
6But check in even when they say they need space
Your friend might be withdrawing from their regular activities and, while its important to respect their wishes, it’s also helpful to continue to show your support beyond the first few days of their healing process. Just sending texts or emails, or calling on a regular basis, will show them that you care and that you haven’t left them alone. They’re more likely to reach out for help if they know you’re in this with them.
7Practice self-care activities with them
Helping yourself to feel good will also help your friend feel better. A great way to help your friend through this is to invite them to partake in an activity with you that makes you both feel cherished and worthy of love. Try one of these six self care practices, which will help the both of you maintain a sense of wellbeing and peace. They may even start to do these practices on their own when you’re not together.
8Educate yourself about sexual assault
Learning about sexual assault will only help you be a more informed friend. You can read past victims’ words or learn more about the law enforcement practices in handling these cases. A person is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in America, so learning about the topic will help you understand a major problem in the country and, in turn, you’ll help with ending rape culture or changing the way women report sexual assault.
Remember, no victim of sexual assault ever deserves what happened to them. Being a good friend to someone who might be facing guilt, blame, or shame, is immensely important during one’s recovery. Thank you for being a friend.