How To Support a Survivor of Sexual Assault?
One of the biggest obstacles for victim-survivors is the fear of not being believed, or that somehow, when they tell someone, their experience will be minimized. Here are some tips to support a person that has been sexually assaulted.
The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou
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Sexual assault survivors fear being blamed for what happened if they share their stories. For this reason, it is crucial to know how to act when a person opens up to you about this traumatic experience.
As a family member or friend, a simple thing like actually believing what happened to them and taking their story at face value is really important. It shows that you are listening, connected, not judging them in any way and that you're there to support them.
In the book "El Viaje De Paula: La Vida Después De Una Agresión Sexual" (Paula's Journey: Life After a Sexual Assault) by Laura Roqueta, the author talks about what to say when someone tells you that they have been sexually assaulted. Here are some tips that could help you support your loved one throughout this process.
1. Listen Without Judging
If they open up to you, listen and let them share their feelings. The details of what happened are not necessary. Encouraging words like "thank you for trusting me and being brave enough to talk about this" or "I'm sorry you had to go through this" are really helpful.
2. Believe in Their Story
Validate their feelings and let them know that you believe in them and their story. You can tell them that it's not their fault and say thank you for being brave enough to share their feelings and that experience with you. Acknowledge their pain without assuming how they feel. Avoid making comparisons; they could be very hurtful. Some questions you can make are: "I can't imagine how you must have felt... What feelings arise when you talk about that," and "How was it for you?" Remember that you are not trying to solve a crime. Instead, you are trying to support someone that has gone through a crime. Avoid questions like:
-Did you say no?
-Why did you go to their house?
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-Were you drunk?
-Why have you waited so long to talk about it?
3. Provide Unconditional Support
You can offer to contact a professional who will help them heal from the traumatic experience. It's ok to express your anger or sadness, but don't prioritize your feelings over theirs. It's crucial during this moment that you don't make the survivor feel like they need to worry for you for knowing this information. Some helpful words are: "Would you like me to help you to find different types of support?", "I'm not sure of the resources available, but would you like us to search them together?" and "Do you have support for overcoming this?"
The words that you say after someone opens up to you about their sexual assault can have a profound impact on them. Listen without judging, believe in their story, and provide unconditional support.