Often friends and family feel it is their responsibility to protect the survivor and, in their own minds, take on some of the blame for what happened. It is important to remember that we are all vulnerable regardless of how much precaution we may take, and that no one exists in a completely protected environment all the time. The only one to blame is the assailant himself.
The most impactful thing you can do for a survivor is to listen when they are ready to talk, and to believe what they are sharing. Any range of feelings and emotions are normal responses to a traumatic event, so patience and compassion as the individual sorts through their feelings is often key to enabling the survivor to confidently take steps forward.
A survivor is never to blame for being sexually assaulted. Communicating this helps to reinforce that others believe it is not the fault of the victim. Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, income, appearance, or physical strength. Hindsight is 20/20, and the natural instinct to blame oneself for what they did or did not do to prevent the assault is a common trap we get caught up in. Your role may be to help the survivor see the event more realistically and to reiterate your support and care of the individual.
It is common for the survivor to feel a general loss of control over their life following an experience in which they had no control over what happened. Survivors have found that they are able to regain that feeling of control through making significant life-changing decisions such as reporting the sexual assault, moving, changing jobs, etc. Supporting their decisions and resisting the tendency to “take care of the situation” can help the individual regain a sense of their own personal power.
Anger is also a natural reaction to what has happened, so if you are feeling a need to seek revenge against the assailant, you are not alone. Seeking a third party to whom you can express your anger can be beneficial to all parties involved.
If your relationship with the survivor includes being a sexual partner, it is not uncommon to experience some temporary disruption in previous patterns of sexual activity. Each individual’s reaction will vary tremendously depending on how they handle recovery. Your partner may feel anxious about your response, so it is important to not put extra pressure on your physical relationship and allow your partner to take the lead in sexual decision making during this time. Your compassion and sensitivity during this time will help them communicate openly about their feelings and encourage overcoming this difficult time.
When sexual assault occurs, friends and family of the survivor often feel they have been victimized as well. As a friend or family member, you may find that you experience similar reactions that are frequently expressed by the survivor. It is important to acknowledge that you also need support in understanding your own feelings and reactions. Reach out for support and remember that Mary’s Place is also here for you.