Anyone can find themselves supporting a relative, friend or partner who has been raped of sexually assaulted. Rape and sexual assault are terrifying experiences and everybody reacts differently. Some common reactions are described in the ‘Your Feelings’ section. Please read this information to understand the emotions they may be experiencing.
What can I do?
It can be hard to know how to support someone who has suffered an assault and difficult to know what to say. There is no guaranteed right response. Listening and providing support are the most important things you can do.
Telling the person to try and forget the assault can seem logical but can be unhelpful. If they could just forget what happened and get over the assault they would have done this already. In fact, feeling not able to get over it is something that many people worry about, and it can increase feelings of guilt or shame. It is important to understand that the recovery process can take months, even years.
Talking about the assault
Try to make sure that your partner/friend/relative knows that you believe them and that you are there to listen when they are ready. They may not want to tell you everything, and some people never disclose all the details to their family or friends. This doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you.
Try not to ask why the assault happened, or why they didn’t do more to stop the assault. Many people initially blame themselves and you need to help them realise that they are not to blame for being assaulted.
Try to encourage your partner/friend/relative to express how they are feeling. Allowing them to naturally experience these feelings can be very positive - allow them to cry whenever they need to, even though this may be upsetting for you.
Respect their feelings about physical touching. Many victims of rape and sexual assault don’t want to be touched, particularly in the days after the assault. Even a comforting hug might upset them. Ask them if it’s OK, or let them make the first move. If you are in a sexual relationship your partner may now view sex as frightening and find it difficult to be intimate with you. It is important that you work together on re-establishing your sexual relationship. This can take time.
It is important to respect the decisions of your partner/friend/relative. They will be faced with a lot of decisions. Report the assault? Get checked out at a clinic? Ask for counselling? Decisions that might seem easy to you can feel awkward and embarrassing and extremely difficult to them. But remember that these decisions are theirs to make, and it’s important that they are allowed to make them. Don’t try to persuade or pressure them, and don’t be tempted to go against their wishes to do what you think is the right thing.
Consider your own reactions
Anger is a common reaction if you are supporting a loved one who has been assaulted. Make sure your partner/relative/friend knows you are not angry with them. They may already think that they are to blame for what has happened and could be even more sensitive to your reactions and thoughts.
You may feel so angry that you want to threaten the assailant or seek revenge. This is not going to help and will probably add to the worries and concerns your loved one has already.
You may feel helpless because you were unable to prevent the assault from happening, or because you could not protect your loved one. Recognise that you cannot change things. Over time people experience a number of changes, especially regarding their feelings toward themselves and others, so your loved one may not appear to be exactly the same person as before. Try to be patient, find out what would help them, and this will help you to cope with your own feelings.
Talking to someone in confidence could help your partner/relative/friend – recognise that this is an important step and offer your encouragement and help in support of this, however if they are reluctant to speak out, allow them to decide what they would like to do in their own time.