Parents, friends, and others who want to support survivors of sexual assault may not know exactly how to do so. These loved ones may feel helpless and worry about saying the wrong thing or pushing too hard when attempting to offer love and support. We share some of the best tips for supporting survivors so that you can help them feel empowered and start on the road toward healing.
- Accept that you will not have all of the answers or be able to fix it.
It can be especially frustrating to help a loved one who survived sexual assault, because you may feel overwhelmed and struggle with not knowing exactly how to help, even though you wish you could make things better immediately. It is important to keep in mind that just being there for the survivor can make all of the difference in the world. Your loved one does not expect you to have all of the answers, and they know that you cannot repair the damage.
However, you can listen and let them know that you care. Offer unconditional support and believe them. You respond to them in non-judgmental ways and offer support in any way that you can. Do not blame them, question them, or push them for more information. Let them know that you believe in them and will support them for as long as it takes. You also need to validate their feelings and acknowledge them in positive and empowering ways.
- Help them feel empowered and regain control over their life.
One of the worst effects of sexual assault is the sense of helplessness that it instills in the victim. They lose power during the assault, so it is critical for you to support their decisions and choices to help them regain a sense of control over their life. Avoid telling them what to do, but offer suggestions and options to help them make decisions that are right for them. Share resources with them for other support systems, such as counselors, sexual assault support groups, and others.
You also could suggest that they ease back into a routine that does not involve a great deal of stress by finding a job that serves a therapeutic purpose. There are many options for working at home or working with their hands that would empower them by allowing them to work as much or as little as they’d like. For example, they could set her own hours and rates by becoming a dog walker. Studies show that petting and playing with dogs reduces stress and alleviates depression and anxiety.
- Take a cue from the survivor themselves.