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.
Steps to Take Immediately Following a Sexual Assault
Statistically, 20 percent of all women will experience sexual assault at some point during their lifetime, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in 71 men will also be victims of sexual violence. This means it is likely that someone you know will be affected. That is why it’s important to know how to respond in the event of sexual assault.
Get Medical Treatment Immediately
Although being a victim of sexual violence is shocking and traumatizing, it’s important that the victim seek medical attention as soon as possible. Whenever possible, go to a hospital right away. Don’t change clothes, brush teeth, bathe, eat or drink if possible. If the victim feels they must change their clothes, place them in a paper – not plastic – bag and take them with you to the hospital. The victim doesn’t have to plan to press charges for medical care to be needed. There are multiple reasons why a victim should seek medical attention.
The person who has experienced sexual assault may not feel that they want to share their situation with anyone much less publicly press charges against the perpetrator. Yet, it’s important to undergo a medical examination as soon as possible. For starters, the perpetrator may have shared an STD with their victim. The victim may have suffered physical damage of which they are unaware. Pregnancy may result from the assault. Finally, it is possible that after some time has passed the victim will decide to prosecute and having professional evidence will greatly help the case.
Contact the Police, a Family Member or a Close Friend
Though the victim may want to hide themselves and their experience, what they really need is the support of people who believe them and will stand beside them. The victim doesn’t need to make an on-the-spot decision about whether or not to press charges, but it’s a good idea to file a police report. Sexual assault can cause emotional harm and often reactions of embarrassment, shock, denial and helplessness may result. It’s important that supportive loved ones offer the victim time and space to process what has happened. Prosecution can happen at a later date if the victim so desires.
The YWCA is Available 24/7
At the YWCA, we staff a 24-hour emergency hotline. Victims of sexual assault may call us at any time to receive guidance. We have trained advocates who can direct victims toward the proper steps to take. Call us at 816-232-1225 or 800-653-1477 to speak with a victim advocate. Victims who fear they are in imminent danger should call 911 for police protection.
Make Time to Speak With Those You Love About Sexual Assault Awareness
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and at the YWCA, we want to help you become more aware of a subject that affects every community in a powerful way.
What began 40 years ago as a movement to make streets safer after dark has grown into an annual, national event highlighting violence against victims – violence which occurs at home, at work and in public. Sexual assault happens in communities of all sizes and locations; however, there are steps that communities and individuals can take to increase awareness, prevention and healing.
Consider just a few of the key facts surrounding sexual assault in America:
- An assault may impact daily life whether it happened recently or many years ago. Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own way.
- There are significant long-term and short-term impacts of sexual violence on overall health and well-being.
- 32,000 pregnancies each year result from instances of rape – most often among women who are involved in an abusive relationship.
- Emotional health damages include denial, fear, shame, anxiety, withdrawal and PTSD-like symptoms.
- It is estimated that one out of every six American womenhas been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
Experts suggest communities discuss the difficult questions surrounding sexual assault, such as: What constitutes sexual assault or sexual violence? What should an individual do if they feel they are a victim now or might become one? How can a victim safely leave an abusive relationship? The answers to these questions all need to be shared widely.
Locally, the YWCA continues efforts year-round to provide resources and hope for victims. We offer support groups, life skill groups, rape crisis assistance and referrals to further resources in addition to our 24-hour crisis hotline and our Shelter for Abused and Homeless Women and Children. In April 2016, we are co-sponsors of a self-defense training event especially for women. The T.A.K.E. self-defense course will be offered free of charge to all women and girls over age 12 who register on April 9 at the Griffon Indoor Sports Complex on the MWSU campus. This event runs from 10am-12 noon (registration at 9am) and will give women tools to use in protecting themselves against unwanted advances or violence.
Last year the St. Joseph YWCA provided over 1,300 individual therapy sessions to help women heal from domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Today, we invite you to join our mission and share critical information about sexual assault and sexual violence. Visit www.ywcasj.org to learn more.