How to Talk to a Sexual Assault Survivor

It’s difficult knowing how to react and respond when someone opens up to you about their sexual assault, ultimately it’s devastating that a friend or family member went through something so terrible. However disclosing information about the sexual assault is definitely harder on the survivor than on you so it is important you put your feelings and judgements aside and support them.

The easiest and most impactful thing you can do to help a survivor of sexual assault is to listen and not press them to disclose any details they don’t feel comfortable sharing. You can also help point them towards resources to help them with their recovery and to seek advice from professionals.

The RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline’s staff have compiled a list of helpful phrases to use when discussing sexual assault with a survivor:

“I believe you” and “I know how much courage it took for you to open up to me.”

Sexual assault survivors often feel a lot of shame and will often worry that people will look to pin the blame on them for the sexual assault.

The best thing you can do is tell them you believe them and acknowledge how difficult it is for them to be having this conversation with you in the first place.

“It’s not your fault” and “Nothing you did means you deserve this.”

Especially in cases where the survivor knows the perpetrator they can often blame themselves for the sexual assault. Society in general can be geared towards the blaming of the victims of sexual assault rather than the perpetrators which makes it hard for survivors to tell their story.

Reminding the survivor that it was not their fault and they are blameless is extremely helpful.

“You are not alone” and “I am here for you in any way you need.”

Let them know that they have a friend who is there for them and will listen to whatever they need to get off their chest.

Ultimately though you are not a professional so it might be worth letting them know that you will listen to them as much as they want and need but it could also be beneficial to speak to someone so they can work through their pain and begin to heal.

“I’m sorry this happened.”

This experience will have affected your friends life in a substantial way so it is important to acknowledge that and know that while they deal with the after effects they might not be the same person. Acknowledge their pain with phrases like “This must be difficult for you to talk about” and “Thank you for sharing this with me” will help the survivor to know that you empathize with them.

Additional Support

The recovery and healing process might take some time so here are some ways to show the survivor that you continue to support them.

Allow a Sexual Assault Survivor to recover in their own time

Recovery isn’t a smooth road and it can be difficult to see someone you love struggling to recover from the experience. However it is important to continue to support them no matter how long their recovery takes. Avoid judging them for taking too long or making them feel like they should be better, or that they’re being dramatic.

Check in from time to time

Even years after the sexual assault, the survivor can still suffer from mental and emotional effects. Check in with

your friend from time to time to make sure they are okay and remind them that you are there for them.

How To Exit A Situation Where Someone Is Pressuring You

Not all sexual assault happens by physical force, sometimes offenders will pressure people into sexual contact through threats, guilt, or intimidation. If you are ever in a situation where you are feeling pressured here are some tips that may help you.

Remember that you are not to blame.

The person who is pressuring you is the one to blame in this situation and nothing about your behavior, the way you dress, how much you have had to drink, or who you are is asking for this.

Trust your instincts.

If you feel uncomfortable listen to your gut and look for a way out of a situation before it can turn sour. If someone is asking for you to go outside or to another room with them and you feel uncomfortable then make an excuse or try and get someone else to come with you.

Have a code word with friends and family.

Have a phrase that you can say or text your friends or family to get them to come over and distract the offender or make an excuse for you to walk away with them. A code word or phrase is a great way to enlist the help of others without alerting the offender.

You can lie to create an excuse to leave.

This could be something as simple as needing to use the bathroom or saying you spotted a friend who you need to talk to or simply that you need to make a phone call. Whatever you need to say or do to excuse yourself from the situation safely.

Think of an escape if you need it.

What is a way you can make a quick exit? Could you use the window or door, are there people around who would help you if you needed it? How would you get their attention so that they helped? When you leave where would you go?

Brad Nakase, Attorney

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