When you learn that someone close to you has been a victim of sexual assault, you might feel very overwhelmed and emotional. You may feel guilty or even angry that you weren’t able to prevent it from happening or that you ‘should’ve noticed’ or paid attention. It’s normal to feel this way, but if it gets too overwhelming, then seek professional help. However, remember that at this moment, the person who opened up to you needs your moral support and help. It is normal to not know what to say or how to console the other person.
You must also keep in mind that it takes a lot of courage and guts to open up to someone, so if a person is letting you in, you need to be as careful and gentle as possible. Don’t be angry at the other person for not ‘telling you sooner’. Often times, victims don’t realize they have been sexually assaulted until much later in their life. So, don’t comment on that. If you do, the other person will feel discouraged, and you will lose their trust.
Secondly, do not tell them that they should have ‘stricken back’ or spoken up. Usually, when moments like these occur, the victim goes in a shock, and doesn’t know how to react.
How you deal with a sexual assault survivor is very important. It is necessary that you know what you should and shouldn’t do.
Here’s how you can help a survivor/victim
Listen without judgment
The best thing you can do for a victim/survivor is listening to their story without any judgment. Don’t try and cut them off, let them finish what they are speaking, and don’t interfere. Don’t ask questions like ‘why didn’t you hit back’ or ‘why didn’t you say no’.
Through your actions and words, make the other person believe that you trust them. It is possible to listen to someone without suggesting a ‘solution’.
Keep it to yourself
This is the most important thing. When someone tells you something that has happened to them, keep it to yourself. Do not discuss their trauma. Consider their feelings and have empathy for them, by violating their privacy, you are disrespecting them.
Don’t report it to any authority or any elder without their consent. If the other person wants you to tell someone, only then should you discuss the matter with someone else.
Check in with them
You cannot force someone to ‘heal’. However, what you can do is be there for them as they heal themselves. So, it is important that you regularly check in with them, and ask them how they’re doing.
Every once in a while, offer to help them with a task that they’ve been putting off as well. One of the best things you can do for an assault survivor is to be there for them and support them, no matter what. If they start to feel distant and get upset, don’t take it personally’, and remind them that they can talk to you and you’re here to help.
If they choose to take action, be supportive
If they decide to report the incident to the police, or they decide to get medical/professional help, be there for them. Be present, be supportive and be considerate.
Another important thing you need to remember is that, you cannot force the other person to report the incident against their will; they will do that if they feel like it. But, you can remind them of the resources they have present and the help they can avail, but don’t force them.
Now, a person who has been through such an event may feel the need to blame themselves for it. However, you need to remind them that they are not to blame for what happened and that you acknowledge their courage and strength.
This is not easy, because survivors at times might need constant reassurance, and despite all that, they might not be ready to believe you but don’t take it personally. Be there for them and support them as much as you can.
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