For Loved Ones
Do you know what to do if your friend, family member or loved one survives sexual assault, sexual abuse or intimate partner violence? Here is support for loved ones of survivors.
If someone tells you they are a survivor of sexual assault/abuse or intimate partner violence, the best thing you can do is believe them. You may be the first person the survivor has told and your reaction will have an impact on their healing process and will also increase their confidence to reach out for other sources of support.
WHAT TO SAY
It can be very difficult to know what to say to someone who is a survivor of sexual assault/abuse or intimate partner violence. Although there are many things you may want to share, such as what you think the survivor should do, it is important to remember that the survivor needs your care and concern more than anything.
These are the three most important things you can say to a survivor:
- “It’s not your fault.” Survivors of sexual assault/abuse and intimate partner violence tend to blame themselves for whatever happened to them. The assault or abuse is never the victim’s fault; it is the perpetrator/abuser’s fault. So even if the survivor feels responsible, say clearly and compassionately, “It wasn't your fault.”
- “You didn’t deserve this.” No one ever deserves or wants to be sexually assaulted or abused. The survivor needs to be reminded that they deserve to live a life free from violence; that there is nothing wrong with them. Tell them as many times as possible that “they didn’t deserve this!”
- “There is help available.” Survivors can feel overwhelmed with their pain and suffering and may feel all alone. They may also feel that there is nothing they can do to change how they are feeling or their situation. Let them know that there is help available; they are not alone; and there is hope. Direct them to this website or they can call our 24-hour toll-free hotline 855-886-RISE (7473) for help.
WHAT YOU MAY BE FEELING
After learning that someone close to you is a survivor of sexual assault/abuse or intimate partner violence, you may experience a number of conflicting emotions, such as anger, guilt, self-blame, betrayal, loss and helplessness. As a loved one, you may experience all these emotions at once.
You may also experience feelings of wanting to harm the perpetrator. While this is a natural reaction, this is not a realistic one. This can create further crisis and sometimes the survivor may feel the need to protect the perpetrator (especially if the perpetrator is known to the survivor).
The survivor has put a lot of trust in you to share such a sensitive experience, and perhaps without realizing it, they have placed a lot of responsibility on you, as well. Your feelings are valid.
EMPOWER THE SURVIVOR
Empower the survivor to make their own decisions. Do not tell the survivor what to do or make decisions for them. Remember to listen and respond to what the survivor says they need – not what you think they need.
Be respectful of the survivor’s boundaries and allow the survivor the time to heal. Be there to support the survivor as long as they need, or connect them with someone who can. Remember to ask before you touch the survivor. Don't assume that physical contact, even in the form of a gentle touch or hug, will be comforting to a survivor.
It is also important to respect the survivor's boundaries and give them the space they need.
WHAT IS INTIMATE-PARTNER VIOLENCE?
Intimate partner violence can happen in any relationship and anyone can be a survivor of intimate partner violence. There are many different types of abuse including physical abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, and technological abuse. Just because a survivor has not experienced physical abuse means they haven’t experienced intimate partner violence.
It is important to remember that leaving an abusive relationship or home can be incredibly difficult for many survivors. The survivor may fear retaliation from the abuser. Some abusers will threaten the survivor or the survivor’s children in order to keep the survivor from leaving. The survivor may not feel they will be financially stable outside the relationship, and they may fear homelessness. The survivor may also be afraid to reach out for support, because they may feel they will not be believed.
Overcoming the long lasting emotional effects of an abusive home or relationship can be a lifelong process. It is important to be patient with the survivor and support them. No one ever deserves to be abused by a partner. It’s not the survivor’s fault.
IS SEXUAL ASSAULT SEX?
Sex requires consent. Sexual assault and sexual abuse are crimes used to exert power, to humiliate, and to control. Being forced to have unprotected sex or to engage in more sexual activity than you had wanted is also rape or sexual assault.
Whether or not a weapon was used, the survivor was probably very scared. Survivors may have cooperated in order to get out alive. This does not mean they consented. Sometimes cooperation is necessary in order to survive.
No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted or abused. No matter whom the survivor was with, where they were or what they were wearing, they did not deserve to be sexually assaulted.
HOW CAN I OFFER SUPPORT TO THE SURVIVOR?
If the survivor has recently been injured due to a recent incident of intimate partner violence or sexual assault, support the survivor in getting medical care. Please see our resource page for local health care providers.
SHOULD I REPORT THE CRIME?
You may want the survivor to make a police report, but it is not your place to make that decision for them. The choice to make a police report is intensely personal and often a difficult one. Some survivors find the process empowering. Other survivors may find the process of reporting too difficult. Only the survivor can decide if making a police report is the right thing for them.