How to Help
If Someone You Know Has Been Raped or Sexually Assaulted
It is not always easy to know what to say or do when someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, especially when that person is a family member, friend, or loved one. Here are some ways you can help:
- Listen without criticism, judgment, or condemnation. Be there as support, and let them tell you what they are willing to share. Understand the survivor may be feeling many emotions, and emotional reactions are a natural response to trauma. Do not minimalize their feelings.
- Believe the survivor. Even if they sometimes doubt themselves, even if their memories are vague, even if what they tell is upsetting, you need to be willing to enter those difficult places with them and to receive their words with respect.
- Give support and resources. Share resources like The Center for Women and Families hotline 844-BE-SAFE-1 or websites like www.rainn.org or www.thecenteronline.org, but realize that only they can make the decision to get help. Ask them what you can do to help. Encourage them to practice good self-care during this difficult experience.
- Offer to go with them. Accompany them to get medical care and a forensic exam.
- Educate yourself. If you have a basic idea of what the survivor is going through, it will help you to be supportive.
- Never blame the victim or yourself. Victims often blame themselves. Many partners and family members also insist on blaming themselves. In fact, sexual assault is no one’s fault except the offender.
- Be Patient. Remember, there is no timetable for recovering from trauma. Avoid putting pressure on them to engage in activities they are not ready to do yet.
- Get help if the survivor is suicidal. Most survivors are not suicidal, but sometimes the pain of the abuse or rape is so devastating that the survivor may contemplate suicide. Mentions of a desire to cause oneself harm should always be taken seriously. If your loved one speaks of suicide or self-harm, get help immediately. You can contact the National Suicide Hotline for support and resources at 1-800-273-8255.
If Someone You Know Is in an Abusive Relationship
If a friend or family member is in an abusive relationship, be aware that they may have a very different point of view than you. They may have heard the abuse was their fault and feel responsible. Even if they know it is an abusive relationship, they may choose to stay in the relationship. As a loved one, try to be there for them because although they may not show it, they need you more than ever. Here are some ways you can help:
- Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation. Be supportive and listen. Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
- Be non-judgmental. Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or use guilt or shame to get them to leave their abusive partner. They will need your support even more during those times.
- Help them develop a safety plan. Check out our information on safety planning or visit www.thehotline.org for tips for wherever they are in their relationship.
- Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family. Support is critical. The more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to reach safety and stay away from their abusive partner. Remember that you can call our crisis and information line 1-844-BE-SAFE-1 to find local support groups and information on staying safe.
- Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. The Center provides counseling, support, and other resources for those in abusive relationships. Call us at 1-844-BE-SAFE-1 to talk to a trained advocate. Offer to go with them when they get help. If they have to go to the police, to the courthouse or to a lawyer, offer to go along for moral support.
- If they end the relationship, continue to be supportive of them. Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
- Remember that you cannot “rescue” them. Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It is important for you to support them no matter what they decide, and help them find a way to safety and peace.
The Center is here to help. If you have other questions about what you can do to help or just need support for yourself call us anytime, day or night, at 1-844-BE-SAFE-1.