How to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted

One of the biggest things for victim survivors is the fear of not being believed, or that somehow, when they tell someone, it'll be minimised or dismi

One of the biggest things for victim survivors is the fear of not being believed, or that somehow, when they tell someone, it’ll be minimised or dismissed or that somehow they’ll be blamed for what happened. So, as a family member or as a friend of somebody who’s been sexually assaulted, a simple thing like actually believing what happened to them, taking their story at face value, is really, really important. It shows that you are listening, that you’re connected, you’re not judging them in any way and that you’re there to support them. The first thing was really listening, and really hearing what my friend wanted to say So it was, I guess that initial conversation was a big conversation. So it was, it was very intense and emotional and I didn’t know what else to offer her and, and I think just to be there and to listen to her, in that first moment of finding out what had happened, yeah, was the most important thing I could do.

One of the major misconceptions that people might have about sexual assault is that it’s perpetrated by strangers, or people not known. But the reality is, for the vast majority of victim survivors, the perpetrator is known to them – which means, often it’s somebody within the family or, or a close family friend. Family and friends can help, sometimes just by simply listening. We don’t need to have someone there sitting, patting our hands the whole time. We, we need someone just… just to listen, to hear what we have to say. You are very, very overwhelmed by just even the fact having to disclose it, having to relive it in many respects, and getting up the courage to disclose it.

In my situation, the perpetrator was known to my family and friends. And so when I needed to say something, I was worried that no-one would believe me. It’s really important to know that whatever your story and whatever the story of the person that you’re supporting, that there is options to have advice and information for you. And if you’re feeling distressed or upset about what’s happening – and that’s really common – that you can access support from a specialist service as well.

Yeah, I think it was really helpful for me to take on some of that responsibility for finding out what could be done about sexual assault and what help was out there. And to, yeah, to do some research and discover that there actually are specialist services and that they provide support, both to people who have experienced a sexual assault but to friends and family. And so I was actually able to access that service and get some guidance and advice. Sometimes as family and friends, we have ideas about what’s helpful and that might be for that person to contact the police, or it might be for them to have no contact with the police. And the most important thing, as a person who loves someone who’s experienced sexual assault, is that you maybe support that person to explore what options are available to them and that they can make the decision when they’re ready in their time, about what they would like to do.

There are a lot of support services in every state and territory in Australia that you can find online. You could also contact your local health service or speak with your GP and ask for a referral to the nearest service. It was really important that I kind of didn’t rush in with lots of information and solutions. But I could really sense that what my friend needed most was for me to, to listen and to be her friend and to be the same friend that I’d always been and to not see her differently. They didn’t doubt what was going on. It was helpful that when I did say something, it was more that they could… what could they do. I still haven’t told them everything. But it was good that, after I did speak to them, is that I was still their sister, their daughter… and just a friend. And that’s… what I needed. One of the key messages for family and friends who are supporting a victim survivor is to know that there must be something special in your relationship for this person to feel like they trust you, and that you can support them with their story.

You can still continue to be a family member or a friend, that sexual assault is a part of this person’s story – it’s not all of their story. If anything, the experience of being able to navigate such a thing as sexual assault and being able to be there for your friend and, and to offer some support, and to really hear what that experience was like for them and, and be there for them, I think it’s actually maybe brought us closer together. I don’t want to suggest that good things necessarily come out of sexual assault, but that I think, when you’re there for the people in your life, when terrible things happen, it can actually bring you closer together..

As found on Youtube

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