Sexual assault is an act of violence, not sex. It is a traumatic event that most deeply affects the survivor, but also has impacts on the people that care about her/him. If you discover your friend or partner has been sexually assaulted you may want to help, but not know how. Below are some tips for being a supportive partner or friend.
1. Give her or him control over her/his healing process. Everyone heals in her/his own way and time. All power and control was stripped from the survivor during the violation. Returning control to her/him is an essential step to demonstrating respect and caring.
2. Believe her or him unconditionally. More than 98% of people who seek help for sexual violence are truthful. Make it clear that you believe your partner or friend was violated.
3. Reassure her/him that she/he is NOT to blame. Only the perpetrator is to blame. It does not matter where the survivor was, or what s/he was wearing or doing. The fault lies solely with the perpetrator.
4. Listen respectfully. Let your partner/friend know that you will listen respectfully, then do so. Allow your friend to speak without interrupting. If s/he pauses or stalls, sit quietly and let her/him guide the conversation.
5. Respect quiet. Sometimes a victim will need you to be a supportive, but quiet, presence. Accept that quiet is a necessary part of healing, and be willing to offer quiet support.
6. Respect personal space. Sit at a comfortable distance for the survivor and face her/him. You may want to touch her/him reassuringly, but ask first. Honor the survivor’s answer and know it isn’t personal – just what she/he needs right now.
7. Suggest resources, but remember every step in the healing process the survivor's choice. Survivors are strongly encouraged to seek medical help, information and support. Refer the survivor to these resources, but allow her/him to make the decisions regarding her/his care.
8. Give it time. Wanting to quickly fix everything is normal, but not realistic. Violence takes time to heal. Respect the survivor’s process no matter how long it takes.
9. Respect the survivor’s privacy. Your partner or friend has trusted you with deeply personal information. If she/he has confided in you, then respect her/his privacy and keep the story to yourself unless you are expressly given permission to share.
10. Seek help for yourself. As someone supporting a survivor you will likely also experience a range of thoughts, feelings and questions. Confusing, contradicting or upsetting thoughts are normal. Seek support for yourself to ensure you are taking care of your own well being.
There is no right way to heal. You must be patient with the survivor, and with yourself. The emotional impact of violence may take time, patience and space to heal. For additional resources please contact Becca Bishopric, Coordinator for Health Promotion – Violence Prevention and Response at 336-278-5009 or through email at email@example.com.