A partner/friend who has experienced sexual assault

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 them control over their healing process. Everyone heals in their own way and time. All power and control was stripped from the survivor during the violation. Returning control to them is an essential step to demonstrating respect and care.
  2. Believe them 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 them that they are NOT to blame. Only the perpetrator is to blame. It does not matter where the survivor was, or what they were 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 they pause or stop, sit quietly and let them 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 them. You may want to touch them reassuringly, but ask first. Honor the survivor’s answer and know it isn’t personal – just what they need 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 them to make the decisions regarding their 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 they have confided in you, then respect their privacy and keep the story to yourself unless you are explicitly 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.

How to Help a friend who has/is experiencing relationship violence

If you suspect your friend is in an abusive relationship, you probably want to help them. Reaching out to your friend can be difficult. You might be afraid of hurting or offending your friend. You might be worried about how the abuser will react if they finds out you got involved. You are probably under stress from witnessing your friend’s suffering. You might even want to avoid getting involved because you are worried about your own emotional or physical health. Your feelings are understandable and valid.

If you decide to speak to them, keep these suggestions in mind:

  1. Let them share. You might think you know everything about the relationship, but it is important to listen openly so that your friend has a chance to describe the relationship from their perspective.
  2. Listen without judgment. Allow your friend to say whatever is on their mind. Support their choices whether or not you agree. Offer your perspective gently and sparingly.
  3. Use nonjudgmental, non-blaming language. Show concern, but do not judge or blame. For example, instead of “you should leave” or “I would never put up with that” say “I’m worried about you.”
  4. Help educate your friend. Both of you can learn more about relationship violence here and here. Allow your friend to decide which resources make sense for their unique situation.
  5. Refer to resources. Your friend may decide to stay with a violent or abusive partner  for reasons you cannot understand. You can still help them by referring them to campus or community resources found here. It may be important for them to meet with someone and develop a safety plan.
  6. Try to remain in contact with your friend. Keep in contact with your friend even if you think it isn’t making a difference. Relationship violence victims often have to try to leave several times before they succeed. Abusers will try to isolate them. Repeatedly let your friend know that you are there for them and they can talk with you no matter their decisions. Continue contacting your friend even if they do not respond frequently. You will serve as an important connection for your friend.
  7. Practice self-care.

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 Julia Metz, Coordinator for Violence Response at (336) 278-5009 or through email at jmetz2@elon.edu.