A survivor's support system can have a significant impact on their healing process. Receiving compassionate and validating responses from friends and family can make a real difference. As a family member or friend of a survivor, you may experience many emotions about what has happened and be unsure about how to act or what to say after a disclosure of sexual assault. Be reassured that there are many simple things that you can do to be a positive source of support and strength, such as:
- Be available to listen when they are ready to talk and not probing for detailed information about the assault.
- Emphasize that the sexual assault was not their fault, regardless of the circumstances.
- Be nonjudgmental in your communication. Avoid questioning their decisions or actions before, during, and after the assault.
- Create conditions where the survivor feels empowered to make their own decisions about reporting, prosecution and healthcare following an assault and respecting their wishes. They are in charge as much as possible about what happens next.
- Increase your own awareness and knowledge of sexual assault.
- Locate resources in your community that can provide additional support and services for sexual assault survivors, such as local sexual assault programs.
- Be patient. Recovering from sexual assault is an ongoing process that will look different for everyone, and your friend or family member needs to know that you will be a consistent source of support.
- Take care of yourself. It is okay to seek help if you are having a difficult time coping at a sexual assault program.
You may have difficulty in knowing what to say or do to help your loved one. It’s okay to not have all the answers; non-judgmental listening and simply being there is helping. Let your loved one know that you care, that you don’t blame them, and that you believe in them. Unfortunately, there are no quick or easy fixes for healing from sexual violence, so it’s important to be patient when the process seems to be taking what some consider to be a long time.
In addition to finding ways to support the survivor, it’s very important to maintain your own well-being. You may find yourself feeling alarmed by the intensity of your own feelings. It can be helpful to recognize that it is natural for supporters to experience their own sense of shock, anger and devastation. Acknowledge the impact that this has on your own life, and seek outside support for yourself. Taking care of your needs can make it easier to provide support to others.