What Friends & Family Should Know

Finding out that a loved one has been sexually assaulted or raped can be overwhelming.  Friends and family of the survivor may experience a range of different emotions, whether it’s shock, sadness, anger, helplessness, or fear.  Many people feel anxious in not knowing what to do or say to the survivor, and there may be a fear of saying the “wrong” thing.  All of these feelings are perfectly normal after learning that a loved one has been sexually assaulted.

So, what can family and friends do for their loved one?  For many survivors, support of the people closest to them is essential to recovery.  Simply reaching out to a survivor, and letting them know that you care and that you will be there for them will make a world of difference.  Here are some other ways you can provide compassionate support to a survivor:
1.  Let the survivor know you love and support them.
2.  Listen with a non-judgmental ear.
3.  Reassure the survivor that it is not their fault.
4.  Don’t ever pressure them for details of the assault.
5.  Ask the survivor how you can help them.
Upon finding out that a friend or loved one has experienced sexual violence, you may be dealing with a wide range of emotions, yourself. Although it is important to let your friend/loved one know that you care about them and take their abuse very seriously, relying entirely on them to help you deal with your own emotions stemming from their assault can be potentially harmful/unhealthy. Your friend/loved one might start to feel guilty if they feel like they're responsible for carrying your emotional burden along with their own. You might find it helpful to talk with an advocate, attend a support group, or seek counseling as a way of dealing with your emotions in a way that is healthy for both you and your friend/loved one.

The following links provide useful information about ways you can begin to cope with the violence and in turn begin to support your friend/loved one in their journey toward healing.

Resources to help you cope with your own emotions
• "Self-Care for Supporters of Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivors"       
          http://www.pandys.org/articles/selfcareforsupporters.html (information © Pandora's Project)

Resources on how to support your friend or loved one
• "Tips for Friends and Family of Survivors of Rape and Sexual Abuse"         
          http://www.pandys.org/articles/tipsforfriends.html (information © Pandora's Project)
• "7 Ways to Help a Teen Survivor of Sexual Assault"
• "Partners, Friends, and Family of Survivors of Sexual Assault"