Learning that someone you care about has experienced a sexual assault can be very difficult for you. It’s hard to watch someone you care about in emotional and/or physical pain. You may have difficulty in knowing what to say or do, or in accepting your feelings. In situations where survivors disclose the assault to someone, 2 out of 3 tell a friend first. The way you respond can have a huge impact on your friend’s healing process and on your relationship. If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted or experienced any unwanted sexual contact, there are two things you need to think about: how you can support the survivor, and how you can take care of yourself.
Supporting a Survivor
Believe them—many survivors are afraid they won’t be believed, and it takes a great deal of courage share an experience of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact.
Listen with compassion and without judgment.
Stay calm—you may have many different feelings, but staying calm gives the survivor space to control the conversation.
Provide information—there are many resources available on campus and in the community to help victims/survivors of sexual assault. This list of commonly asked questions may help you feel better informed and confident in the information you provide.
Let the survivor make their own decisions—you can provide information about options, but what to do and who to tell is always the survivor’s choice, even if you disagree with the decisions being made.
Respect the person’s privacy—the decision to tell someone about sexual assault is very personal and it is the survivor’s choice to tell whomever they choose.
Help establish safety—offer to stay with the person, accompany them to a safe place, and always ask before touching or hugging the survivor.
Be patient—there is no timetable for healing.
Supportive things you can say—“This is not your fault”, “No one deserves this”, “I am sorry this happened to you”, “I believe you”, “Thank you for telling me”, “I will support your choices”, “You are not alone”, “What can I do to help?”, “Is there anyone you’d like me to call?”, “I can go with you to CWS/the hospital/a reporting center”, “You can tell me as much or as little as you want to”.
Sometimes after a trauma, a survivor has thoughts of suicide as a way to end the suffering they are experiencing. If the survivor mentions suicide, take it seriously. Listen carefully, and then seek help immediately. Help can be found at CWS (937-775-3407), Raider Cares (855-327-9151), University Police (937-775-2111), local police (911), or a local hospital.
It can be easy to dismiss your own feelings when someone you care about is going through a difficult time or has experienced a trauma, but you and your wellbeing matter. Finding ways to care for yourself as you care for others helps you be a better support person. These are suggestions that may help you manage stress and improve your resilience:
- Maintain your regular life routines and schedule
- Use coping strategies that were helpful to you in the past
- Be accepting of your feelings
- Get enough rest
- Take time to relax
- Take time for yourself
- Make plans to spend time with other people
- Eat healthy meals
- Use your support system
- Talk to someone—learning about someone else’s trauma can be very impactful. You may find that you are experiencing disbelief, anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety, confusion, fear, or any number of emotions. This can disrupt your life, making it difficult to concentrate, maintain your normal routines, or causing nightmares. Support is available to you, too, at Counseling and Wellness Services (937-775-3407). You can respect the person’s privacy and get the support you need in order to cope with what’s happened