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Assisting a Sexual Assault Survivor

Often, the best way to assist a sexual assault survivor is to explore immediate concerns and progress through longer term issues.

Physical safety and needs
These may include helping someone seek medical attention, contacting authorities if there is an ongoing risk from the accused, and preserving evidence.

Emotional safety and needs
These may include reinforcing and expressing belief in the survivor, active listening, on-going support, and referral to trained counselors or other resources.

Exploration of criminal, civil, and campus action
Usually, the first option a victim will grapple with is whether or not to report an assault to law enforcement and then whether or not to move forward with a complaint. Understanding options is important in decision-making.

Long-term care and recovery
This will be on-going, but sensitive action immediately following an assault, referral to appropriate resources, and ongoing support are all important to survivors. 

How to Help
An empathic and educated response to someone who has been assaulted can be a vital element in the healing process.

  1. Reinforce with them that it’s not their fault. Survivors often place unnecessary blame on themselves.
  2. Be a good listener. Find a quiet place to talk, and let survivors explain what happened -- at their own pace and in their own words.
  3. Allow survivors some space and comfort.  Ask how they want to be treated, especially with regard to personal space. This includes where you’re seated during the conversation.
  4. Help survivors get assistance. Offer to provide phone numbers, information, transportation, etc.  Ask survivors if they would like your involvement in subsequent steps and actions.
  5. Let survivors naturally regain control of their lives. Remember this is an essential part of the healing process. Allow the survivor the time and space he or she needs to make their own decisions and support them even if you don’t agree with the decisions they make.
  6. Ask sensitive and open-ended questions rather than ones that could be perceived as victim-blaming.
  7. Reinforce that what took place was real, even if the survivor expresses ambivalence because of a prior relationship with the assailant.
  8. Take care of you. Helping a survivor can be a very emotional experience. Seek advice or counseling for yourself to diffuse some of the stress that you may be feeling.