Sexual assault is prevalent in our society and affects everyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, or religion. However, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 91% of all rape and sexual assault victims are female. Whether you have a friend, family member, or even a co-worker who is a victim of sexual assault, knowing how to help and be supportive of them can be difficult. They are experiencing many emotions and memories. and their whole outlook on life and people can change. Here are a few tips to help and encourage a sexual assault victim.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Some friends and family members can be judgmental and think that the victim brought the situation onto him or herself. Remember that you do not know all the specifics and details of the story. Additionally, don’t judge the victim for their behavior following the traumatic event. Sexual assault can trigger many negative behaviors in an individual including depression, eating disorders, anxiety and panic attacks, even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Professional help is often required to help an individual figure out how to cope with the emotions and behaviors that result from the life-changing event.
The victim’s experiences, feelings, and actions may be a hot topic among people who know her, but you must refrain from talking about the victim and the situation. Often, this gossip is untrue and can create several damaging rumors. In some cases, it can even be dangerous for the victim if rumors or confidential information was discussed and spread among several groups of people.
Be Available When They Need to Talk
Many sexual assault victims need someone they can trust to listen to them. They need someone who they feel comfortable sharing details with — even if the details don’t put them in a positive light. Let the victim know that you are available to listen and when they need someone to talk to, make yourself available. Also, when talking, don’t try to put them down or make them feel like the situation was their fault. Simply listen, show empathy, and let the victim know how brave she is for sharing her story and for working through that fear and pain. Sometimes a listening ear and a good friend is the best thing a victim needs on a rough day.
Know What Resources are Available
There are many resources available to sexual assault victims. Hotlines and online chat options are available for victims and provide complete privacy unless those you talk to fear you are in danger. As you try to help and support a sexual assault victim, understand what sexual assault is, the effects it has on an individual, and what help options are available both nationally and locally. The more you know, the more you can help, or handle the situation yourself if you are ever put in that terrible situation.
As you talk and listen to a family member or friend who is a victim of sexual assault, try not to overreact and feel overwhelmed. If you struggle to help or you experience intense feelings of anger or sadness, you may also consider professional help to navigate these feelings as well.