How To Support Someone Who Was Sexually Assaulted
“Nobody wants to remember trauma. In that regard, society is no different from the victims themselves. We all want to live in a world that is safe, manageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our natural reluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors.”-The Body Keeps the Score
You just found out someone you love was sexually assaulted. Maybe the incident occurred many years ago. Perhaps, it just happened recently. Regardless of the incident or circumstances, it’s normal to feel concerned, angry, and downright powerless.
While you cannot fix what happened, you can be a powerful asset in supporting your loved one’s recovery. Let’s learn what you need to know.
Listen (Above All Else)
If someone you love discloses sexual assault, the most important response you can have is simply listening. Listen without judgment, expectations, and time constraints. Listen even if your loved one doesn’t want to talk or doesn’t really know what to say.
Sexual assault can evoke tremendous shame, fear, and self-inflicted anger. Many survivors don’t know how to sort their feelings and thoughts about the situation. Furthermore, many of them blame themselves for what happened.
Your job is to focus on being as supportive and empowering as possible. Yes, the details may be gruesome. Yes, they may make you feel uncomfortable and afraid and uncertain. However, the worst thing you can do when your friend reaches out is to turn away. Remember that it’s not about having the perfect response. It’s about staying present no matter what.
Affirm and Validate Your Loved One’s Reactions
Maybe he feels embarrassed and humiliated and wants to hide from the world. Maybe she downplays the situation and says she just wants to put the past behind her. Whatever the reaction, know that there isn’t a right-or-wrong one.
All reactions are valid. Sexual assault can be confusing, and the healing process can mirror a seemingly strange maze full of conflicting emotions.
As you listen, validate the feelings. Avoid cliched, blanket statements like, It could have been worse, or, It’ll get better with time. These statements can be condescending, offensive, and demoralizing. Instead, focus on validating what your loved one is actively experiencing.
Make it a point to reassure that you believe the story, you believe what happened and that it wasn’t his or her fault. Finally, thank your loved one for sharing the feelings and thoughts with you. Thank this brave, amazing person for being so courageous.
Encourage Medical and Psychological Support
If the assault happened recently, you can offer to support your loved one by accompanying them to the hospital for immediate medical attention. You can also encourage calling local law enforcement. Going alone can be frightening and your support may be invaluable.
Psychological help can also be imperative during this time. Therapists know how to listen, react, and provide professional resources for healing. In a time that can feel so paralyzing and alone, therapists offer a nonjudgmental space that promotes comfort and safety.
That said, not everyone will want to pursue these steps right away. Not everyone wants to come forth with disclosing what happened. You should avoid pushing any agenda.
Ultimately, it is the individual’s choice about which actions to take (and when to take them). Let your loved one know that you respect any and every decision.
Take Care of Yourself
Secondary trauma sometimes occurs after indirect exposure to a traumatic experience. It can happen while supporting someone who suffered from sexual assault. The common symptoms include:
- Intense feelings of guilt
- Diminished concentration
- Obsession/preoccupation with the trauma
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite changes
- Impaired concentration
These symptoms can result in your own burnout and psychological suffering. While you should be available for your loved one, you also must take care of yourself during this vulnerable time.
You need to have your own support network. You also must have healthy coping skills that can help combat feelings of stress, anger, or fatigue. It’s hard to help someone when you’re feeling depleted. Be kind to yourself and remember that you don’t need to have all the answers.
How To Be There For Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
Finding out someone you love was sexually assaulted may be devastating. Know that it’s natural to panic. Know that it’s also normal to want to withdraw.
That said, you can be a powerful ally in your loved one’s recovery. Remember that listening is the most significant gift you can provide. Be there for him or her. Don’t leave or pull away. Don’t lecture or judge. Be the person who holds the glimmer of light when the world feels dark.
Have you been sexually assaulted? Are you reliving parts of your trauma or finding yourself unable to feel ‘whole’? Talking to friends can be helpful, but therapy can help sexual trauma survivors move toward healing.
Begin Therapy for Sexual Assault in Nashville, TN
If you or someone you know has been through a sexual assault, the therapists at Willow Counseling can help. To begin counseling and find healing after a sexual assault, follow these simple steps:
More About Willow Counseling, PLLC
Willow Counseling, PLLC provides quality, trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community. We recognize the relationship between our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. In counseling sessions, therapist and client work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve anxiety, remove the pain of trauma, help professionals move on after secondary traumatic stress and burnout and so much more. Most importantly, our therapists want to help you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again. Through counseling, you’ll be able to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.