What do I do if Someone I Know is Raped?
The most important decisions you, as a friend or significant other, can make at this time are to decide to support the victim/survivor in the choices s/he makes, and to decide to get support for yourself too. These decisions may be the hardest ones to make. As people close to the victim often experience similar feelings to that of the victim, it is essential that you get the support you need in order to be able to provide support to your loved one who has been victimized. Although this document refers to the victim as “she” and “her”, we want to acknowledge that men can of course be victims of sexual assault. Apply all these suggestions if a male friend is assaulted.
How You Can Help
- Believe Her. The psychological consequences of not being believed can be as damaging as the rape itself. Allow the survivor to know you are open to hearing about her feelings and experiences. Although it may be painful for you to hear about what happened, letting the survivor know you are willing to enter those difficult places with her is important.
- Be clear that the rape or assault was not the survivor’s fault. No one ever asks to be raped or assaulted. Raping someone is a conscious decision made by the perpetrator. Even if the survivor exercises bad judgment, she/he did not deserve to be raped; no one does. Here are some things you can say to someone who has been sexual assaulted:
"I believe you."
"You survived; you did the best you could do under the circumstances."
"It is not your fault. Nothing you did could possibly justify what happened."
"I'm sorry it happened to you."
"This does not change how I feel about you."
"What can I do to help you?"
- Non-Judgmental Support. Looking back at an event with knowledge that a rape occurred is very different from being in the situation not knowing that a rape is about to occur. Don't blame her or judge her, even if you would have behaved differently under the same circumstances. Every person who survives a rape deserves our respect.
- Do not question or judge what the survivor had to do to survive. During a rape/sexual assault, victims are forced to make instant life threatening decisions. These decisions should not be criticized later. Survivors may not always scream or fight back. Their survival is evidence that they handled the assault the best way they could. Expressing to the survivor that you are thankful that she is alive enables her to feel more secure about her judgments
- Express your compassion. If you are feeling outrage, compassion, or pain, share these emotions with the survivor. There is nothing more comforting than genuine human response. Be cautious, however, that your responses are not too overwhelming for the survivor. Often family and friends of survivors feel compelled to "go after" the perpetrator. These feelings are very real and very understandable. However, they can be channeled in more non-violent ways.
- Let Her Make Her Own Decisions. Being raped means losing all power and control over what happens to her body. Restoring decision-making power to her as quickly as possible will help her heal. That means that she gets to decide whether or not to report the rape to the police, and she gets to make the choices about medical care.
- Let Her Decide Who Else to Tell. Don't increase her feelings of loss of control by telling anyone else without her permission. Rape is an invasion of privacy-don't perpetuate that invasion. Listen to her. It's more important that you let her talk about her feelings and how she perceived the assault than for you to ask questions about what the assailant did.
- Don’t Tell Her To “Just Forget About It”. She needs to feel the feelings and work on her healing NOW, or it will hurt her more later.
- Encourage the survivor to get support. In addition to offering your own caring, encourage her to reach out to others. On campus contact the Counseling Center (554-4172) or Wellness Center (544-4409) to speak with a professional.
- Offer to Go with Her to the Hospital, Police, or Counseling Sessions. Don’t pressure her to do something she doesn’t want to so. This can be re-traumatizing for her.
- Acknowledge and Deal with Your Own Emotions too. You will need to take care of yourself in order to be supportive of the survivor. Outbursts of anger about the rapist may cause the survivor to fear that you may get hurt or get in trouble with the law, and she'll feel responsible. Don't add to her worries. You can call a rape crisis center for help with your feelings, too.
- Help the Survivor Find Appropriate Local Resources. It may be hard for her to initiate contact with others who can help her. Ask her if she would like your help in contacting resources. Again, don't take control away from her.
- Contact the YWCA Rape Crisis Center for Support. The YWCA can be contacted at 408-287-3000. Even if the survivor doesn't want to talk to a counselor (and that's OK), the counselor can help you help her, and can give you important information about the local law enforcement and medical systems. They can tell you about rape trauma and you can make sure that the survivor gets that information, so that you'll both understand the healing process.
Cowell Health Center
Office of Student Life
San Jose YWCA Rape Crisis Center
Material adapted from: http://www.uhs.uga.edu