By Alyssa Bravo
Posted on October 22, 2021
A guide for friends and family members of sexual assault survivors
TW: This article contains mentions of sexual violence
The last few years have seen an increased awareness of sexual violence, particularly with the influence of the #MeToo movement. However, it’s crucial to recognize the unfortunate possibility that this issue has impacted the people around us.
According to a 2021 report by the World Health Organization, one in three women fall victim to physical and sexual violence throughout their lifetime. The report also revealed that COVID-19 has further increased women’s exposure to domestic violence.
Of course, it’s never easy to address the topic of sexual violence, especially when it has happened to someone you care for. But it’s important to remember that a survivor will usually only reveal information about their abuse to the people that they trust.
As such, you should take the trust that your loved one has given you, and provide a helping hand through their healing process.
Here is a list of ways you can help:
1. Remind the survivor of your support
According to Statistics Canada, one in five victims of sexual assault—both women and men—felt subjected to victim-blaming by their family and friends.
Survivors of sexual violence were stripped of their power and control by their abuser. As a trusted loved one, you should assure the survivor that you believe their side of the story, and that the abuse was not their fault.
A guide developed by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) also encourages friends and family members to be available for the survivor to express their feelings, whether it be by crying, screaming, or even being silent.
2. Ask them how you can help
Communication is key, especially when addressing sexual violence with a survivor. Again, their power and control were taken away from them. As a supporter, remind your loved one that they have full control of their current situation and recovery process.
Although it’s common to feel the need to take charge when someone is asking you for help, it’s important not to assume what would be best for them. Instead, you should ask the survivor what they would like from you and then listen to their needs.
3. Remain level-headed
Anger, frustration, and shock are all normal initial reactions when you hear that someone you care about has been abused and taken advantage of by another person.
However, as suggested by an article by Very Well Mind, it’s best that you avoid large, angry outbursts and making threats towards the abuser. Doing so can only add to the stress and pain of the survivor and their situation.
You should instead stay calm and be empathetic for your loved one.
4. Encourage professional help
In the aftermath of their abuse, survivors of sexual violence can experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. They might have also sustained physical injuries that could permanently hinder them.
Encourage your loved one to seek help, whether it be at a hospital for a physical examination, reporting the incident to the police, or speaking to a mental health professional.
5. Be patient with the survivor
While the steps above are important in helping your loved one through their recovery, you should remember to be patient with them. Understand that trauma, especially when related to sexual violence, is something that some survivors never fully heal from. But the healing process is different for everyone, and no matter how long it might take, make sure to be present and patient for the survivor.