When the victim told you what happened, did you know how to respond? Did you feel helpless or unsure of what to say? Did you worry that you might say the wrong thing?
If you didn’t know how to respond, you are not alone, and this post is for you.
In order to know how to help, it is important to first understand what sexual assault is as well as the warning signs.
Sexual Assault is any unwanted sexual contact or verbal communication, that forces a person to engage in sexual activity without established consent.
Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by the use of force or threats; this is also a form of sexual assault. No means no the first time! Individuals that use coercion may ask over and over again, causing the victim to feel pressured into saying yes. Once hearing yes, the individual feels justified in his or her actions, even though the victim said “no” eight times before saying “yes.” If a person feels pressured into saying “yes,” consent has not been established.
Emotional signs of sexual assault:
- Difficulty with trust – victims of sexual assault may find it difficult to trust others or experience challenges in forming or maintaining relationships.
- Isolation – victims of sexual assault may withdraw from friends, family member, or social activities.
Physical signs of sexual assault:
- Bleeding (vaginal or anal)
- Difficulty walking
- Broken or dislocated bones
Ways to help someone that has experienced sexual assault:
- Show empathy, believe the survivor. Everyone processes trauma in a different way so try not to be judgemental based on their behavior or the amount of time it takes for a survivor to heal. You can use phrases such as “I believe you”, “Thank you for sharing”, “This must be tough for you”.
- Communicate to the survivor that the incident is not their fault. You may need to communicate they are not to blame more than once but you can say, “This wasn’t your fault” or “You didn’t do anything to deserve it”.
- Be emotionally supportive, show concern about what the survivor has shared with you about the incident. You can say “This shouldn’t have happened to you” or “I care about you and I’m here if you need anything”.
- Provide the victim with resources and allow them to make their own decision about the next steps in their recovery.
- Check-in and let the survivor know that you are still there if they need you. It may not be easy for them to reach out to make sure they know that you care and will support them on their terms.
It is also important to know that if you are close to a victim of sexual assault, like a family member or a close friend, it is normal to experience feelings of anger, sadness, or guilt. If you experience any of these feelings, you should also seek support from the available resources to get the help you may need as well. Below are some local resources you can share with anyone who may need them.
The Women’s Safe House
Women’s Resource Center YWCA
Magdalene St. Louis