Someone You Care About Has Been Assaulted

Hearing that someone you care about has been sexually assaulted or abused can be extremely difficult. In addition to wanting to support your loved one, you are likely to experience a range of reactions. Included below are brief tips for how to be supportive during this difficult time, as well as national resources that provide information about self-care for friends and families once they are aware of the assault.

Person consoling another person.

How to Help a Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted

It is important to understand and deal with your own reactions so you can take care of yourself and continue to offer support to your loved one.

On A Practical Level, There Are Important Things You Can Do To Help

  • Help them to obtain medical assistance - Try to help the person think through the consequences of choices.
  • Provide a safe place for him/her to stay until he/she feels able to be on his/her own - Especially in the beginning, it may be hard for victims to be alone.
  • Give a practical sort of comfort - Victims have been badly treated and need to be nurtured.
  • Be available - Victims may need to talk at odd hours, or a great deal at the beginning. Be there as much as you can. Encourage him/her to also call a crisis hotline or go for personal counseling.

On An Emotional Level, There Are Many Things To Do

  • Believe them if they say they were raped - With acquaintance rape especially, the person needs to be believed that what occurred was, in fact, rape and it was a violation of their freedom.
  • Believe that it was not his/her fault - Most rape victims believe initially that somehow the rape was their fault. They may feel guilty and ashamed. Gently let him/her know that the rapist is to blame, not themselves. No one deserves or asks for rape. The responsibility for rape lies solely with the person who chose to perpetuate rape.
  • Listen, do not judge - It is not your place to play prosecutor and make him/her prove that an assault occurred. Accept his/her version of the facts and be supportive. Encourage him/her to express feelings and needs.
  • Be patient and understanding - Everyone has his/her own timetable for recovering from rape. Do not impose a timetable on a victim. There is no right way to respond to rape. Let him/her set the pace and follow their lead.
  • Accept their choice of a solution to the rape - It is more important that he/she make decisions and have them respected than it is for you to impose what you think is the "right" decision. One of the goals of recovery from rape is to regain a sense of control, and this is one way victims can exercise their control over their lives.
  • Put aside your feelings and deal with them somewhere else - It is important for rape survivors to know that others care enough about what happened to be upset. However, he/she has enough to deal with without having to cope with your anger, despair, or other reactions. If you have strong feelings, talk to a crisis hotline, a counselor, or another friend.

Additional Resources