Research and experience have demonstrated that if a victim of trauma turns to someone for help and he or she responds negatively, this is often harder to heal than the traumatic event itself. In other words, if your response does not feel supportive, you may be harming a survivor more profoundly than did the initial trauma.
In order to help someone who has experienced sexual assault or abuse, it is important to:
• Believe her or him.
• Be aware of your tendencies for denial.
• Validate the survivors’ experience by quietly listening and conveying your understanding of the difficulty of the experience.
• Refrain from minimizing or “explaining away” anything a survivor of assault experiences as hurtful.
• Don’t blame.
• Don’t judge.
• Avoid trying to “fix” anything. If you can simply hear and let the survivor know you care, you will have been profoundly helpful.
• Give information not advice.
• Encourage a survivor to get medical attention.
• Don’t press a victim to report the crime. This decision should be made by the survivor alone. The survivor has had enough control taken away from them.
• Respect their right to privacy.
• Encourage survivors to seek help from people with expertise in sexual assault and who are comfortable with the issue. Not all counselors or therapists have these qualifications.
• Let the survivor know that she or he can call Rape Trauma Services confidential 24-hour Crisis Line (650) 692- RAPE (7273).
How To Be Supportive
More than anyone else, it is those closest to a survivor who will influence how readily she or he will heal. If the survivor has no one to tell, no one to validate their experience, and especially their feelings, the survivor will find it all the more difficult to recover their equilibrium.
To be most helpful, listen. Assure them that all of their feelings are okay. Help the survivor refrain from acting on those feelings in ways that are self-destructive or may hurt others. Express your caring.
If you are tempted to take revenge on the perpetrator, remember that this will be dangerous for you and not helpful to the survivor. You also need to take care not to act on your feelings in ways that will hurt you or any other person.
Remember that our counselors at Rape Trauma Services offer support to you as well. We do this because it is important for the survivor’s well-being and because we care about you and your experience.
For support call our 24-hour Crisis Line at (650) 692- RAPE (7273).