How to Provide Help For Sexual Assault Victims in a Crisis
When you find out that a friend or loved one has been the victim of sexual assault, you may feel confused, overwhelmed and angry upon hearing the news. These feelings are normal, but they may also make it difficult for you to know how to offer help to your loved one. Help for sexual assault victims may look different than you would expect, and it may be helpful for you to have a guide in case you ever find yourself needing to offer assistance.
Listen and don’t criticize. Offer an ear to your friend or loved one for support, and allow them to tell their story without any criticism or judgment from you. Be cautious to listen openly, asking only clarifying questions and inviting them to talk more as needed.
Your loved one may also have delayed telling you about their sexual assault. It’s important to allow them to share why they didn’t feel comfortable telling their news, but don’t ask for this information because it may feel like an accusation.
Help your loved one distinguish between regret and guilt. There may be times when your friend expresses regret that they went to that particular place or similar feelings. These are normal thoughts, but help them navigate away from thoughts that implicate themselves in the situation. Feelings of shame and guilt are not unusual, but offering help for sexual assault often involves some redirecting of unhealthy perceptions of the situation.
Don’t take control. You may be tempted to push your loved one to get back into normal activities or encourage a particular type of therapy or relaxation technique. It’s important that your friend feels supported, but not controlled. Help them identify the kind of help they need but don’t use intervention-type of confrontation to get them to move forward in their recovery.
Seek out professional help. While you don’t want to force your loved one into a particular mold of recovery, it is important to know your limitations in offering help. Your friend may be dealing with complex emotions and difficult pain, so help them connect with resources that are equipped to help a sexual assault victim.
The YWCA of St. Joseph offers help for sexual assault victims through the Shelter and many other victim services. Participants with the YWCA can access ways to rebuild their lives at no charge, including professional counseling. Visit the YWCA to learn more.