More Tips for Friends and Family of Rape and Sexual Violence Survivors

© 2006 Pandora’s Aquarium

 

This is from Jes's wonderful site survivingtothriving.org that has some great advice for secondaries. Reprinted here with permission.

Ways to Help
Your loved one may need your help right now, but be unable to ask for it. I hope you'll consider offering it. You can help her heal more than you know.

Believe him or her. This is the most important thing you can do. Even if the assault or abuse happened many years ago, she needs to be believed now.

Validate the emotions your loved one expressed. Healing from sexual assault presents survivors with a myriad of feelings. Your loved one has every right to each of his unique feelings.

Offer a somewhat detached perspective. It may be easier for your friend to talk about rape and sexual assault if you respond by letting her know that you care about what happened to her, but avoid showing very strong emotional reactions. This is because many of us feel somehow responsible for our supporter's feelings about the sexual violence. Of course, you probably do have strong feelings about it and will need support for them. Try to avoid depending on the survivor for that support.

Offer practical support. Your friend may find that organizing her life is difficult while she is in crisis. You can help by offering to help. For instance, she may need help moving out of her apartment or she may be nervous about attending her first counseling session. Just by offering your help, she will know that you care and if she needs you, she'll be able take you up on it.

Encourage her to seek medical attention. And offer to go with her.

Call him and make plans with him. While I was in crisis, healing from my rape, the friends I most appreciated would call me up, with a suggested activity and a date and time. Your friend may be feeling to overwhelmed to pick up the phone and make plans with you, but he will probably appreciate it if you do.

Let her know you are thinking of her. Send flowers, a card or a note. Knowing that you care will lift her spirits during the tough times. I still keep notes from thoughtful friends and sometimes am moved to tears by the love they extended to me.

Express your anger in a controlled manner. Your loved one has likely experienced her rape as violent and out of control. Expressions of heated anger will likely make her feel further out of control.

Educate yourself. Sexual assault triggers a wide range of emotions. Your loved one may find himself becoming anxious, dissasociated from his feelings, or depressed. If you educate yourself about the responses to sexual assault, you'll be better prepared to help him deal with his.

Take time for yourself. Talking to someone in such pain can be difficult. Take the time that you need. You'll do more help by stepping back for a moment than you will by listening resentfully.

Most importantly, let her know she can talk to you. Your compassionate, listening ear is the best you have to give her. Let her know that you are not afraid to listen to what she has to say. However, please bear in mind that she may not always want to talk about her feelings about her assault. Sometimes it is just too difficult, but knowing that you are available can be enough to get her through the painful times.


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Things to Say

Many people do not know what to say when a friend is talking about sexual assault. Most of the time, your supportive listening ear is all that is needed. Please bear in mind that your friend has had total control taken from her and is probably struggling to reclaim it. Offering ideas and suggestions is a better idea than giving direct advice. It is not always necessary to come up with the perfect words, but here are a few ideas.

You are on my mind. How are you?
How can I help you?
Can I do anything to make things better for you right now?
I'm glad you told me.
It just happened to you. You didn't cause it and you didn't deserve it.
I'll support you no matter what you decide to do.
What would you like to do next?

It's okay of you are at a loss for words.
There's no right or wrong way to do this. You are doing the very best you can.

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What Not to Say

Talking about sexual assault is very difficult for a survivor. If she is telling you about what happened, she is probably revealing a very intimate part of herself to you. She deserves to be believed and treated with respect. If you have said any of these things, though, you could probably just apologize and she'll feel a lot better.

Silence: When I told others about my rape, embarrassed silence felt like shame to me. "I'm so sorry," is a good reaction.

Any sort of minimizing statement: "It could have been worse," "Don't think about it," "Life goes on," and statements that ignore what we are feeling are likely to be received as minimizing our pain and it will hurt. A simple "I'm so glad you are here with me. It will take time, but you will get through this. I am here for you as you do," will make your friend feel better."

"You've got to move on with your life." Healing is the survivor's life right now. He's doing the work he needs to do so he can feel whole again.

Statements that begin with "You need to..."Please respect her enough to let her decide what she needs to do. She may, however, appreciate it if you pointed out options by rephrasing those statements to begin with "You could..."

"What did you do to cause it?" The survivor did nothing to cause what happened. Nothing about her could provoke a normal person to assault her. The blame lies on her attacker.

"It doesn't sound like it was a bad rape." Since rape is prevalent in our society, a lot of people think it is no big deal. However, having an unwanted object put inside of your body is just about the most violating and violent thing that can happen to a person, even if there are no wounds or bruises. Please don't minimize what happened to your loved one.

"Isn't it time you got over this?" Healing from sexual assault takes time and sometimes things just come up to remind a survivor of what he endured. Healing from trauma cannot be neatly enclosed into a time limit.

"He didn't actually rape you." If someone attempted to rape your friend, but was not able to complete it, she may very well feel horrible. After my rape, I found myself questioning the humanity of others. How could someone have wanted to do this to me? Did I provoke this? What does this say about my humanity and the humanity of others? It is likely that your friend is having similar questions.

"If this were true, you would have reported it." If we went by statistics, rape and child abuse would, in fact, seem rare. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000, only 28% of rapes were reported in 1999. Of sexually abused children in grades five through twelve 48% of the boys and 29% of the girls told no one about the abuse, not even a friend or sibling. Many people do not report for a myriad of reasons, but that does not mean it did not happen.

"I'm going to kill him." This will probably frighten her. You have every right to be angry, but please keep her feelings in mind. A simple, "It makes me very angry that you were violated," said calmly will validate her feelings and will probably not frighten her.

"You knew/were married to him. It can't be rape." 62% of female survivors knew their assailant. 43% of survivors are raped by a friend or acquaintance. 17% were raped by an intimate (NCVS, 2000). The rapist is very rarely a masked man jumping out of the bushes.

"Why didn't you report it?" Sometimes this question is asked out of honest curiousity, but a lot of survivors will see it as a criticism of their choices.

"Can we talk about something else? This is disgusting." What was done to your friend is unconscionable, but he is not. Don't make him feel as though he is.

"You are doing this for attention. I very much doubt that your friend is trying to call attention to herself by making herself known as "The Victim of Sexual Violence," It's not a title many people want.

"Move on. It happened so long ago." A survivor would like nothing more than to be able to "move on." That is not possible without processing the resulting feelings. To do so, she needs to talk. Please don't silence her as she moves through the process. Perhaps you could tell her you are glad she is dealing with it now.

"He would never do that!" Rapists can be anyone. They can be the most popular boy in school, they can be a friend's brother. It is doubtful that your friend is lying. A better thing to say would be, "There is no way you could have known he would do that."

"But you went out on a date with him." Date rape is very common. Going on a date does not make a person obligated to have sex

"Why didn't you scream or fight?" Rape is often seen as a life threatening experience. In life threatening instances, humans fight, freeze, or flee. Your friend may have frozen, which is a very common response. She may already be asking herself those questions. What she needs from you is reassurance that it is a totally normal reaction and does not excuse the rapist's actions.


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Resources
As a secondary survivor, your life has been affected as well. Many resources are out there for you if you need support. If someone you love has been abused or assaulted, it is natural to feel many emotions and it may help to find someone to talk to. Crisis centers often provide counseling or support groups for people dealing with the rape or sexual abuse of loved ones. Call your local center if you think this would be of benefit to you. RAINN is a resource for secondary survivors as well. Call 1-800-656-HOPE if you need someone to talk to or would like suggestions to further help your loved one cope.

Pandora's Aquarium has a special section for secondary survivors to join and interact with each other and survivors.

Books

Allies in Healing A book for those supporting survivors of sexual abuse.
When You are The Partner of a Rape of Incest Survivor A workbook for partners


 

Pandora's Aquarium - www.pandys.org: An online support group, message board, and chat room for rape and sexual abuse survivors.