There are approximately 433,648 victims of rape and sexual assault in the United States each year. While this number is bleak, the number worse than this is that of unreported cases of sexual assault or sexual violence. It’s estimated that 3 in 4 cases go unreported. If there’s someone you know – whether they’re male or female, young or old, and regardless of their sexual orientation – confides in you about having experienced sexual abuse, you must understand that it took a lot of courage for them to speak up and tell you about their experience. Here is what you can do to help them.
If a friend has come to you shortly after they’ve experienced abuse, you need to advise them to seek medical help and get them to an emergency room. Encourage them to get as much support as they can, whether through psychotherapy, support groups, or crisis lines by providing them with the relevant resources.
Listening means just that; don’t make judgments, comments, or give advice. Most people listen only to provide an answer or state their opinion. This isn’t the time for you to take charge. Just listen and understand that this is a sensitive ordeal.
It’s normal for you to have questions, but you need to phrase them carefully and think before you speak. Even your best intentions can cause emotional and mental distress, which the victim is already experiencing. Be sensitive about the types of questions you have or even hold off on questions for a more appropriate time.
Validating their story and experience is the best thing you can do at the time. Casting doubt on their story is extremely harmful and is one of the main things the victim is already struggling with; who will believe me? Listen to them and just let them express themselves.
In an attempt to comfort a friend, many people, unwittingly, undermine the incident. This happens when you tell the victim that they’re strong, that they’ll get better quickly, or that if they do such and such, they’ll feel better. This type of talk is very generic and it doesn’t help.
Don’t Blame the Victim
Society does enough victim-blaming on its own so don’t contribute to this devastating phenomenon. Suggesting that the person could have prevented this if they took or didn’t take certain actions is victim-blaming. Your suggestions may come out of caring and it may not be your intention to blame them, but that’s the way it can be perceived by a victim. They might already be coming down hard on themselves, so don’t add to that.
Encourage Them to Seek Professional Help
Psychological and/or medical help is something you could encourage the person to seek. Sexual abuse or assault is a serious crime and there’s no valid or logical reason why a person capable of this crime should be left to live their life while your friend is suffering.
There is a great desire among victims to receive justice. However, justice can’t be served unless the case is reported. Try to encourage your friend to file a case against their aggressor as this San Diego-based Hamparyan Personal Injury Lawyer suggests. Sexual abuse cases undergo a criminal investigation to make sure the offender is punished for their actions. By filing a case, victims have the opportune chance to receive justice and personal injury compensation to help their recovery. Explain that action is needed if justice is to be served.
Don’t Force Your Suggestions
Don’t force a person into doing something they don’t want to do. They might come around later, but you need to make it clear that the final decision is completely up to them. This is not the time to take the role of the boss and make decisions for others, or the time to assume that you know what is in their best interest.
The fact is, you are there to comfort and suggest at most, not to force your opinions simply because you feel it is the best route to take. The healing process is something you can participate in, but not take charge of.
Expect a Mix of Reactions
Everyone responds to traumatic events differently. Your friend might seem fine one day, and inconsolable the next. Be prepared for that as it’s a very common reaction. In any case, be prepared to listen, validate their emotions, and provide them with as much support as you can.
There are several reasons why many cases go unreported. People get scared of the backlash. They worry that others won’t believe them, and feel ashamed because the entire act itself is degrading and humiliating, and unfortunately, many survivors tend to blame themselves. If you happen to know a sexual abuse survivor, don’t force them into taking any action, but always show your support and validation. Continue doing so even if the incident happened a long time ago. Help your friend feel safe because safety and security is the first thing they will crave, followed by justice for what they’ve been through.