If someone you know has told you that she was raped or sexually assaulted, the most important thing you can do is to listen to her and believe what she says.
Supporting a survivor can be difficult, even overwhelming at times. If a survivor has confided in you but no-one else, or has few other sources of support, it is easy to feel as though you are responsible for her well-being, but this is not the case. Her healing is in her hands; she has been incredibly strong to survive so far, so there is every reason to believe that she has the emotional resources to face the future. Also, you cannot support her single-handedly; at the very least, you must have your own source of support – if necessary, an anonymous one, such as Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre or other helplines.
- Believe what she tells you. Women and girls rarely lie about sexual violence, and if she senses disbelief she might never tell anyone again. Traumatic events can sometimes cause memory problems; if she ever seems to contradict herself or add new facts, this doesn’t mean she’s making the whole thing up.
- Let her say what she needs to say in her own time, in her own words. It takes a great deal of strength and courage both to survive and to talk about experiences of sexual violence; acknowledge that.
- Help her to make her own choices by exploring her options with her. An important part of dealing with the powerlessness of sexual violence is learning to feel in control again, so try not to do anything which takes control away from her.
- Remember it’s not her fault. Affirm the fact that she used her survival skills to stay alive, and that compliance is not consent. No survivor should ever be blamed for what has happened to her – it is the fault of the perpetrator.
- Take your needs seriously and seek your own support.
- Never doubt what she tells you about her experiences. It may be very difficult to believe that such a terrible thing has been done, especially if you know the perpetrator, but the truth is that women and girls rarely lie about sexual violence.
- Never trivialise or dismiss her feelings or experiences. It may be easy to compare it to something more terrible, perhaps that someone else has experienced, but saying things like ‘it could be worse, it wasn’t as bad as…’ is never helpful. Recognise the pain she’s going through.
- Do not expect her to react in any one way. Everyone deals with the effects of sexual violence differently and at their own pace. Even if you have been through similar experiences, everyone reacts differently, so do not be surprised if she reacts and copes in her own unique way.
Remember, you are not a miracle-worker. The best you can do is let her know that you care about her and are there if she wants to talk.
This guide is for family and friends supporting a person of any gender or sexual orientation, who has been affected by sexual violence, recently or in the past.Guide for family and friends