Sexual assault is a horrible experience, and what happens afterward can be just as bad.
The support sexual assault victims receive is can sometimes not be helpful at all and can have destructive impacts on their lives.
#FreedomForKesha shows us just how trying the battle can be.
Kesha continues to deal with the rape and battery she endured, as her producer countersues her and she is unable to work on her career by working with any other producers.
Since the road after sexual assault is long and hard, knowing how to support victims is important.
Here are some tips:
Sexual assault victims have a lot of emotions about what they have been through.
They need to vent what happened to someone who will genuinely care. While sitting back and being a sounding board is okay, it’s best to actively listen.
You actively listen when you make eye contact, nod your head, change your facial expressions and ask questions when appropriate.
A part of active listening is providing comfort.
A simple touch on the hand or arm when the victim is discussing something very troubling can be extremely helpful.
Be mindful of the questions you ask.
Asking questions is okay, but be careful what you ask and how you word your questions. Thoughtlessly worded questions can sometimes suggest the victim was at fault for what happened.
Questions such as:
- Were you wearing something provocative?
- Did you lead him on?
- Did you have too much to drink?
- Did you try to fight him off?
- Are you sure this really happened?
As you can see, these questions are leading. They convey the notion the person who was sexually assaulted invited what happened. It’s never the sexually assaulted victim’s fault – never.
Better questions may be:
- How can I help you?
- What can we do now?
Empower the victim.
Many sexual assault victims feel out of control, so it’s important to empower them by allowing them to make their own decisions.
While you may have the best intentions, telling your friend that she needs to go to the ER, doctor, or seek legal action can make her feel out of control or as if she can’t make decisions on her own.
The last thing you want to do is take away a victim’s feelings of control, as she’s likely been forced to do something as part of her attacks.
It’s time for her to take control of her life and do what she wants to do.
This is why you should ask her how you can help her. That way she takes the lead and you are just there as a supportive friend who cares.
The sexual assault victim will not be upset all of the time.
She will still have times in which she will smile, laugh and seem “fine.”
There will be other times when she is depressed, crying and inconsolable. This is normal.
Don’t discredit what happened to her or think that she is over it just because she is acting as though she feels better -- what’s going on inside of her may be the complete opposite.
Ride the waves with your friend.
When she’s feeling good, be positive with her. When she’s feeling bad, be there to console her.
She will appreciate your understanding.
Focus on her.
Many people will bring up situations that has happened to them so they can relate to the person, but it’s best not to do this with someone who has been sexually assaulted.
Even if you have been a victim as well, everyone’s situation is different.
Focus on your friend’s experience.
Only speak of your experience if she asks you about it.
You never want your friend thinking you are trying to seek comfort from her when she is the one who needs it at that point.
Be there when needed.
You have a busy life. Your friend needs you right now, though.
If your friend needs support leaving home or going to an appointment, do everything possible to go with her if she asks you to.
It might be possible to arrange a time when you both can go to the appointments or venture outside (if that’s a fear of hers). This way you can work her into your schedule.
However, if that is not possible, you should really try to go with her.
It’s an emergency because your friend is in crisis.
Research and offer resources.
If your friend is interested in seeking outside help, research with her or do some digging for her. Then report back with what you find.
You can work together with her to come up with helpful ways for this road to recovery.
Just be careful not to be overwhelming.
A lawsuit can help cover medical expenses and give some victims a sense of closure, but it may dig up trauma.
A victim should always be the one to make the decision, so remember to follow her lead.
Provide some resources and then let her decide what is best for her and her situation.
Don’t forget about yourself.
In a plane, you are instructed to place the oxygen on yourself before helping people put on theirs.
This is because you can’t help others if you are not well. Be sure to care for yourself during this stressful time.
When your friend is going through something traumatic, that stress can overflow to you.
Don’t burden your friend with how you’re feeling about it, but instead find ways to care for yourself without her help.
You can get a massage, engage in a hobby you enjoy, exercise or do some other activities that help you relax.
Doing this will help you be a better friend when you’re needed.
Now that you know how to help someone who is a sexual assault victim, please go to your friend and start providing the support she so desperately needs right now.
Your friend needs you.