If a friend tells you that he or she has been sexually assaulted…what should you say?
First off, it’s important that you realize that it took a lot of courage for your friend to share this with you. Survivors of sexual assault commonly only disclose to close friends. Secondly, it’s important that you know, your response is very important. Research shows that there are two ways in which friends typically respond, they over-react or they don’t believe the victim, both of which can be very harmful reactions. This blog will teach you how to respond in an appropriate way, as a listening and supportive friend.
Naturally, your first reaction might be to hug him or her. But remember, his or her space has been violated in a very traumatic way. Ask the survivor’s permission when you want to provide physical comfort.
Immediately demanding that…your friend needs to…Get a rape kit! Go to the hospital! Find a counselor! Although well-intentioned, this type of reaction is not helpful. As a listening, supportive friend, you need to remain calm and give the victim control. It is up to him or her what steps they want to take regarding reporting, their health, disclosing to others, etc. You can provide information and options about resources and you can encourage counseling but don’t push it.
As a listening supportive friend, say things that are comforting or reassuring, such as “I’m sorry this happened to you,” and “I’m here for you.”
Unfortunately victim blaming is all too common. Your friend will need your support in confronting unsupportive/non-listening friends that tell her, “it could have been worse.” Or unsupportive/non-listening friends that ask her, “why were you wearing that?” or why didn’t you run/scream/fight/leave?”
You repeatedly telling her that “you did the best you could to survive” and “I’m happy you’re alive” will comfort him or her.
What is the number one reason why survivors don’t disclose to others that they have been sexually assaulted? Fear that no one is going to believe them.
Do you want to be a supportive, listening friend? Tell him or her, “I believe you.”
Thank you to the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center for their “What should I say?” Working with victims of sexual violence worksheet.