A lot of people worry that they won’t know what to do if a friend says they have been sexually assaulted. But supporting a survivor isn’t that complicated. It really comes down to being present, listening to them, and helping with what they need. Remember: it is an honour that they’ve shared something so personal with you. It shows that they trust you and value your presence.
And you have the chance to make someone feel safe during one of the most vulnerable times in their life.
A big part of supporting people comes from checking your own behaviors and ideas around sexual assault. It is important to come into the conversation free from common myths and negative ideas about sexual violence that can make the survivor feel blamed.
Secondly, remember that the survivor is talking about a very difficult and personal experience. The best thing you can do is simply listen quietly. Asking too many questions or making lots of comments may throw the survivor off or make them feel interrogated. Your silence can help the survivor feel like they have the space to talk and that they are being fully heard.
Finally, you can suggest some support options like counselling, going to the hospital, or reporting to the police. Remember that your job is only to provide options to the survivor. You must always respect their decisions, even if you feel like you would act differently in their situation. They are the ones who have gone through the sexual assault, so they know what the best choice is for them.
Being a supporter can be very difficult. Please take care of yourself whether that means seeking your own support through a sexual assault centre or acknowledging if you are feeling exhausted.