Supporting a Sexual Assault Survivor
SafePlace recognizes that you, too, will be suffering from the trauma that your loved one has just survived. We are prepared to offer you support, information, and guidance as you endeavor to help the survivor.
Be aware that the survivor may need treatment: testing for sexually transmitted infections, treatment for physical trauma, etc. Suggest to the survivor that professional support might be needed; that the survivor may find it necessary or beneficial. SafePlace offers advocacy-based counseling and support groups for the survivor’s needs. An advocate is available 24-hours a day via the help line at 360-754-6300.
You, as someone close to the survivor, may have unrealistic feelings of responsibility to make it go away or be better quickly. There may be a need to “fix it” for the survivor. It is very important that you allow the survivor to make choices. Don’t try to be the rescuer; this may continue to block the survivor’s recovery.
You will need to draw all you can from your inner strength to help get yourselves through to recovery. Your patience, compassion, and empathy may be pushed to the limit. Be aware that some or all of the following behavioral indicators are normal under the circumstances:
- Moodiness, extreme mood swings
- Excessive showers/baths
- Seeming withdrawn or hysterical
- Fears, phobias, and startle reactions
- Sleep pattern disorders/nightmares
- Memory loss
- Inability to communicate clearly how or why any of the above are happening or to communicate their needs in those moments
It is okay to express your feelings and you should let them express their feelings as well. It is okay to talk about the sexual assault as long as each wants to talk or listen. As long as it is mutually desired, it is best to talk so that each will know what responses and emotions the other is experiencing during the journey of recovery from crisis to integration of sexual assault.
Often, people close to a survivor may struggle with violent feelings against the offender and have guilt because they did not protect the survivor from being assaulted. Please recognize, understand, and control your desire for revenge. The survivor will feel guilty and responsible for your actions. If you are put in jail or prison, they will be without your presence and support.
Some may direct their anger at the survivor. Do not direct your anger at the survivor. They did not ask to be assaulted and you will revictimize them if you blame them for the actions of their offender. Survivors are often held responsible for the assault, mainly due to incorrect beliefs and myths perpetuated by our society that focus the blame away from the offender. Don’t get your feelings confused. Stay focused: it is the actions of the offender and nobody else that caused this situation.
The following applies specifically to sexual partners of sexual assault survivors:
Prepare yourself for possible rejection of your sexual advances. Many sexual assault survivors lose interest in sex for a period of time. At some point you may fear that the survivor may never want to have sex with you again. Be assured that this is not a personal rejection. It is very common for persons who have been through this form of violence to feel that way for a while.
Some survivors need a lot of holding and comforting, but do not want touches that lead to sexual activity. You should know and understand the importance of this. It is something only you may be able to provide.
You have an important job ahead of you; to help yourself and your loved one survive and heal emotionally and physically from the trauma of sexual assault. Never forget that SafePlace is here to offer any assistance we can to you and/or the survivor.
- Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault – Survivor Support Booklet
- Pandora’s Project – For Friends, Family & Partners of Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivors
- The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian & Gay Survivors of Abuse
Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti
I Never Called it Rape by Robin Warshaw