I know a victim of sexual<br> assault

This section is for close friends and family of sexual assault victims.

We recognize that:

  • your situation is difficult and that you must feel extremely powerless
  • you have an important role to play in the victim’s healing process
  • you also may need help yourself

Every victim is different; it is important to respect their individual rhythm of recovery.

Listen without judging: victims need space and time to express their feelings

  • Don’t press for details if the victim needs space, but take the initiative of contacting her from time to time.
  • Don’t question her behaviour, asking her why s/he behaved in one way and not another, and so on. As a general rule, avoid questions beginning with “Why?” as they can give the victim the impression you are blaming her for what happened.
  • Assure her that it was not her fault.
  • Give the victim time to heal.

Believe what the victim tells you

  • Tell the victim that you believe her/him. It was the victim's experience, no one else's.
  • Focus on what the victim is saying and feeling.

Don’t try to find out every detail about the assault

Most sexual assault victims react less to the sexual aspect of their assault than to their feelings of powerlessness and terror.

  • Don’t insist if the victim prefers to remain vague about the actual events.
  • Give the victim every opportunities to talk about what happened, but don’t force the issue.

Validate the victim's emotions and feelings

  • Victims need to hear that their reactions, emotions and feelings (anger, resentment, guilt and worthlessness) are normal in order to help them express their feelings.
  • Let the victim take the necessary time to heal, and support all reactions in the short, medium and long term.
  • Express your sympathy by saying things like “You must be incredibly angry,” or “You seem sad today.” Ask open-ended questions that acknowledge the victim’s feelings: “You seem troubled today. Do you feel like talking?” Statements like this will help the victim feel understood and safe.

Explore options with the victim

  • Since victims of sexual assault have experienced a loss of power and control, the last thing they need is to be told what to do. Instead, offer to help explore available options. Let the victim decide what s/he wants to do, even if it’s not what you think you would do. 
  • Pass on information about organizations in your region that can help.
  • Encourage the victim to seek medical attention. Victims need to understand how important it is to look after their health.
  • Provide information, not advice.
  • Don’t try to convince the victim to press charges or dissuade them from doing so.
  • Respect and support the victim’s choices, even if that choice is to not take any action at all.

Encourage the victim's independence

  • Help the victim regain control of her/his life with your support.
  • Victims need room to breathe and time to return to their usual level of functioning.
  • Victims may be worried about other things than the actual assault: going back to work, childcare, studies and their personal financial situation, for example. They may need to talk about these issues, and giving them room to express and identify their needs will help them to develop strategies for recovery.
  • Remember, too, that assault leaves victims feeling powerless. Encouraging victims to identify their needs and take the necessary steps to meet them will help them to heal and regain control of their life.
  • Learn to respect the victim’s requests to be alone.

Recognize your limits

  • Take the time to seek help for yourself. It is perfectly natural for close friends and family to have conflicting emotions about the assault. Don’t lose sight of your own needs in your desire to help the victim.
  • Keep informed. The support provided by close friends and family is invaluable to victims of sexual assault. It is therefore crucial that you remain aware of your own concerns, fears and prejudices. 
  • Encourage the victim to talk to someone else if you realize that you are too affected by the event to provide any useful support. This is actually doing the victim a favour, as s/he will undoubtedly pick up on your feelings and may worry more about protecting you than looking after her/his own needs. 

Sexual intimacy

People who have been sexually assaulted or who have recently revealed an incidence of sexual assault or abuse may tend to avoid having sexual relations with their partner, or even ask for a period of abstinence. Any sexual activity is undoubtedly a painful reminder of the trauma they experienced. If your partner has been a victim of sexual assault, respect her/his limits. Putting pressure on them is not helpful. Make sure you continue to have good times together without talking about the assault, and remember all the reasons why you originally chose to be together.

Sources

Table de concertation sur les agressions à caractère sexuel de Montréal, http://agressionsexuellemontreal.ca/intervenantes-et-intervenants/devoilement-par-des-adultes/attitudes-nuisibles-et-aidantes

Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

https://www.sace.ab.ca/index.php/learn/online-lessons/sexual-assault

Stop Family Violence. Public Health Agency of Canada. “When Your Partner Was Sexually Abused as a Child: A Guide for Partners.”. 2008, 19 pages. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/sfv-avf/sources/nfnts/nfnts-visac-partnr/index-eng.php