Supporting a friend who’s a survivor of sexual assault can be difficult and draining. Many people have a hard time accepting that someone they care about has been through sexual assault. They may even feel like their friend has burdened them with the news and start feeling overwhelmed or resentful. It’s important to keep in mind that your friend has trusted you with information that’s very personal to them and which they may not have shared with anyone else. If the first person they talk to has a negative reaction, survivors of sexual assault are likely to wait much longer before confiding in anyone else.
If your friend tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, or have been in any intimate situation that made them uncomfortable, it’s okay not to know what to do straight away. Just listening to your friend and letting them feel that they’re being heard can be a big help. They may want to take steps to change their situation, or they may be completely overwhelmed and not ready to do anything other than talk to someone they trust. In either case, the RASAN website has plenty of resources that you can encourage them to use.
Dealing with the effects of sexual assault is a long process, both for survivors and for the people around them. As you try to support your friend, remember that your wellbeing needs to be a priority too. After all, you won’t be able to help them if you constantly ignore the stress and anxiety the situation is creating for you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or want advice, you’re always welcome to call the RASAN hotline or reach out to one of our members, or take a look at some of the self-care resources on this website.
SHORT TOP TIPS:
- Do not touch the survivor without asking for permission first. This is easy to forget because your first reaction may be to hug your friend – but this can be incredibly disempowering for survivors. So just asking them is a great first step 🙂
- Simply listen and believe the survivor
- Empathize and assure them it is not their fault
- Stay calm and be patient. Healing can take a very long time, and it is so important to remember not to rush the survivor to do anything they may not want to do.
- Empower the survivor to decide what course of action to take
- Be an active listener. This just means being engaged when your friend is sharing these very personal details.
- Be sure to engage in self care. Taking care of people can be exhausting – remember you can always call the RASAN number for yourself to debrief or ask for support and advice. But remember to take care of yourselves! 🙂