For Family and Friends

Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault

As a friend, family member or partner of a survivor of sexual assault, you play an important role in the survivor’s recovery. What you say to the survivor and what you do are important and can impact the survivor in positive or harmful ways.

Below are some ways that you can contribute to the survivors healing, as well as some things to avoid.

DO SAY:

  • I believe you
  • You are not alone
  • I will support you
  • It wasn’t your fault
  • I’m sorry this happened to you
  • Thank you for telling me
  • I am here for you if you want to talk
  • You did what you had to do to survive
  • Can I do anything for you?

Try to remember:

  • The survivor has been traumatized by the sexual assault and this can change their usual behaviour and personality. Try to be open to these changes and supportive.
  • The survivor is doing the best they can at the moment.
  • Healing is a LONG and DIFFICULT process, and how long it takes and what that process will look like is different for everyone. Be patient with the survivor.

DO:

  • Provide the survivor with options/suggestions by using words/phrases like, “I wonder if ____________ is something you want to consider?” or “One option that you have is ___________ another option is ___________”.
  • Listen when the survivor wants to talk.
  • Respect the survivor’s right to tell people at their own pace, or not to tell. Understand that telling is a huge decision with a lot of unknown and potentially damaging consequences.
  • Educate yourself about sexual assault, the effects it can have, and the healing process (Allies in Healing: Laura Davies).
  • Offer to go with the survivor to court dates if he/she has them.
  • Be open to attending the survivor’s counselling sessions if they request you to.
  • Use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ when talking about the offender, or the pronouns that the survivor uses to identify the gender of the offender.
  • Ask the survivor what they would like you to say if people ask about them or the sexual assault.
  • Acknowledge the survivor’s strength and courage.
  • Ask the survivor’s permission if you would like to make any physical contact with them, sexual or otherwise.
  • Accept that your relationship with the survivor may change as the survivor heals. Be patient.
  • Make room for the survivor’s feelings. Remember there is no right way to feel.
  • Encourage the survivor to make their own decisions.
  • Ask them how they are doing.
  • Remember they are more than what happened to them.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Offer to obtain information and supportive services. Suggest the option of attaining additional support (counsellor, religious/spiritual leader, family, friends). This can help her expand her support network and also provide you with a break, especially if currently you are her only support.
  • Get support for yourself. You will likely feel a number of emotions while you support a survivor through their own healing. These include; frustrated, confused, angry, sad, guilty, and helpless. Take time for yourself. Know your limits.

When a person has been sexually assaulted they have lost a great deal of their control including control over their body, their mind, their emotions, their wants and needs. If someone has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted to you, don’t take away any more of their control by doing or saying the following things. Your job as a supportive person is to help them regain their own sense of control. Here are some things to avoid:

DON’T SAY

  • “You should be over this by now”, or “Can’t you just forget about it?”
  • “How am I to believe what happened if you don’t tell me?”
  • “Why didn’t you fight back?”
  • “You shouldn’t have gone there in the first place”
  • “You shouldn’t have been ______________” (drinking, doing drugs, wearing that etc.)
  • “It was probably alcohol that made him/her do it” or “He/she was abused as a child”
  • “At least you didn’t experience rape” or “That’s not that bad”

DON’T

  • Force or pressure the survivor to go to the police or hospital. Let them make their own choices.
  • Search for/ask for details of the sexual assault. The survivor will tell you what they want you to know, when they feel comfortable.
  • Push them into talking if they are not in the mood.
  • Ask questions/make comments that insinuate that the sexual abuse was in some way the survivors fault.
  • Tell other people about what the survivor has experienced, without her permission.
  • Assume that the survivor was assaulted by a man.
  • Excuse the abuser’s behaviour.
  • Minimize the assault.
  • Ask them if they are ok frequently.
  • Pity the survivor.