How to Help a Friend or Family Member
How To Help A Friend
Below are some things to consider when listening/talking to a survivor of gender violence:
Listen. Often a person in crisis just needs someone to hear their story. You can show you’re really listening to your friend by nodding, looking your friend in the eye, saying “uh-huh”, etc.
Believe. One of the most important things you can do is to communicate that you believe what your friend is telling you. Survivors often worry that they will not be believed or have been told by the perpetrator that no one will believe them.
Help to clarify what you think your friend is saying. Listen carefully to your friend and then tell them what you think they said about their feelings. Your friend may be talking about her/his emotions in a way that seems jumbled. You can help by sorting out and repeating back what was said. Say things like: “It sounds like…” or “What I hear you saying is…”
Let your friend decide what they want to talk about. Don’t push your friend to talk about something if they are not comfortable. If you feel you need to ask questions ask gently, so your friend doesn’t feel that you’re prying. Ask general questions, e.g., “Do you want to talk about what happened?” rather than, “How were your raped?”
Avoid asking accusing questions.The perpetrator is to blame for what happened. You may feel angry and frustrated about what happened, but don’t take it out on your friend. Don’t ask questions about why your friend did (or didn’t do) a certain thing. Survivors do the best they can with confusing, terrifying, or life-threatening situations.
Don’t make decisions for your friend. The experience of a gender violence incident is one of having complete control taken away. You can help your friend regain power over her/his life by letting your friend make her/his own decisions about what to do next. Help your friend get information on what all of the options are, but let her/him make the decisions.
Show that you care. Remind your friend that you care, and that this crisis hasn’t changed that fact. You can show your affection by hugging (check your friend is okay to be hugged), telling your friend that you love her/him, or even just sitting quietly together. You may not feel that you are doing much, but your presence can mean a great deal.
Remind your friend to have self-compassion and self-care. Your friend has been through a very difficult experience. Remind your friend to be good to herself/himself.
Take care of yourself. It can be very upsetting and traumatic when a friend is victimized. You may feel powerless, guilty, shocked, angry, or scared. These feelings are normal, natural responses. Be sure to be kind to yourself and get help managing these emotions.
Information taken from Harvard University’s “How can I help my friend” publication. The Office of Sexual Assault Response and Prevention. 2007
How To Help A Loved One
Finding out that a loved one has been assaulted is an extremely difficult thing to hear. No one wants to know that someone they care about was a victim of a violent crime. It is important to remember, that sexual assault and dating/domestic abuse are violence crimes. Sexual assault is not about sex or desire, it is about power and control. The person who is assaulted is never to blame, regardless of the circumstances. Feelings family members may have on hearing that a child, sister, brother, aunt, mother, uncle has been assaulted can range from anger to despair. Please know that there are resources out there to assist you. Below are some tips when supporting a loved one who has been assaulted.
1. Believe her or him! The greatest fear of rape survivors is that they will not be believed or that their experience will be minimized as not important.
2. Let the survivor know that whatever they did to survive the assault was the best thing to do. Validate that it must have been extremely scary.
3. Listen! Let her or him talk. Find a quiet place. Be patient.
4. Help her or him organize her or his thoughts, but let the survivor make her or his own decisions about how to proceed. The survivor needs to regain the feeling of control. Allow her or him to do that.
5. Reinforce that the rape was not her or his fault. Avoid questions that seem to blame the survivor’s actions. The only person who deserves the blame is the person who decided to commit the assault.
6. Give the survivor a secure place to sleep and offer companionship once she or he returns to her or his living quarters. Often the immediate response for a family member is to protect the survivor and hold her or him close (physically and metaphorically). It is really important that you resist this urge and let the survivor determine next steps.
7. Suggest calling a professionally trained rape crisis counselor or advocate.
8. If your loved one discloses the assault to you soon after it has happened, encourage her or him to preserve evidence. Caution her or him not to shower, eat, wash clothes or brush teeth. Forensic exams can be completed up to 96 hours after the assault, sometimes even up to 7 days later.
9. Get him or her medical assistance if she or he so chooses.
10. Comfort her or him and let her or him know that you will support them.
11. Help him or her get psychological and legal help if she or he so chooses.
12. Be available. Give your time and attention each time you are sought out.
13. Understand that you may start to feel stressed or frustrated as you support your loved one. Be sure to seek assistance for yourself too so that you have someone to talk to about how this has affected you. It is important that you do not take your anger, frustration, or sadness at the situation out on your loved one, as this can be very hurtful for both of you.
Often when you support someone who has been through a scary and traumatic experience, it is possible for you as the helper to take on some of the trauma response. This is known as “secondary trauma” or “vicarious trauma”. It is important when supporting someone through the emotional aftermath of an assault, that you don’t forget about yourself. Take the time you need to maintain balance and self care.