The importance of family members, friends and partners for a survivor cannot be overstated.
People who have good support heal more quickly if they are able to let those who care about them know what they need.
Your role is an important one and while there are different ways to deal with an incident or crisis, here is our advice for doing so, as constructively and positively as possible…
How To Be Supportive
Acknowledge the experience by talking with the survivor. Offer them support and leave your views, questions and judgements to one side
Show them you are supporting them through your actions and behaviours. Tell them you are here for them and will support them through their emotional responses. Ask what they need and what they would like you to do next – it’s important, where possible, that the survivor has some sense of control and contributes to the decisions
Be a patient and effective listener. Allow the survivor to express their feelings. Do not pressure them into talking. It is a big shock when you have been sexually assaulted, and it may take some time for them to begin making sense of the experience. They may not be able to talk with you or give you all the details you want and if this is the case, try not to take it personally. Instead, encourage them to talk with someone else or to seek counselling
Ask gently about their own reactions. They are the expert on themselves at this time. However, you do need to understand that they may not want to talk
They may or may not wish to be held or touched. Ask and then be understanding and respectful of their wishes either way
Consider talking about such things as how they sleep, their feelings about being alone, their sense of safety and ability to engage in day-to-day activities
Avoid attempts to overprotect or distract them from the reality of the assault, as this could lead them to deny the effects of it, internalise their distress or become disconnected from family and friends. Endeavour to provide and maintain a safe, healthy environment by being honest, open and consistent. This will build a foundation for them to experience support and care
Let them know you care and are hurting with them; though don’t expect them to look after you. Try not to expose them to all of your emotional reactions and processes, but also do not completely hide your feelings and vulnerabilities from them. Get your needs for support met too. Do not let yourself become a silent victim of rape
After being raped, many people feel totally exposed. One reaction to this is the need to keep total control over who knows and who doesn’t. Check with the survivor before you tell someone what has happened to them. If they are not OK for that person to know, find someone they are comfortable knowing, or talk with a counsellor
What they want might seem to change from one minute to the next – follow them as best you can and try not to take offence if they seem ungrateful for your help. Most survivors are grateful as soon as they can be, but it might take a while if they are really struggling inside.
If you have questions about how to best support a survivor, please contact us below.