18 Things People Do Wrong When Hearing Out A Sexual Assault Survivor

Branislav Jovanović

Sexual assault is unfortunately not where the trauma stops for most survivors.

Even when family and friends offer support, we can still get it wrong when it comes to helping the people in our lives who have experienced such a terrible violation.

In order to truly dismantle rape culture, we have to open ourselves up and hold ourselves more accountable for our responses.

Here are all the ways we hurt the people we love without even knowing it, and how to change this behavior.

1. We victim-blame.

Sorting out someone's story of being sexually assaulted by asking what they said, did, drank, swallowed or wore to cause it, is a no-no. Asking them how many times they said "no," as if one (or being unable to) isn't enough, is also unacceptable.

2. We try to force them to report.

Don't pressure someone who has been sexually assaulted to make a report. It is great if they do, but you will only further traumatize them and make them wish they had not confided in you.

Offer to go with them to do the report, ask if they are sure but then leave it alone and ask what other ways you can support them.

3. We force them to continue interacting with their attackers.

Seven out of 10 people are raped by someone they know, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Singer, Kesha, was forced to remain under contract with a producer she says began raping her when she was 18 years old.

Children are usually most vulnerable to this since they likely have little control over their living situations.

Too many parents allow the people who victimized their children to continue coming around. Consider writer, Sharisse Tracey's story, about being assaulted by her father in her parent's bedroom.

Her mom remained married to him, and allowed him to remain in the home. She wrote in a story for Ebony,

The three of us went to see a therapist together and she concluded that my father was sorry, he would not hurt me again and that keeping our household “stable” was the best way for us to heal.

He eventually tried to assault her again and a friend came to help her leave the home.


4. We don't report children's sexual assault.

Tracey's mom did not report her sexual assault to Child Protective Services.

The assault also should have been reported by the therapist they went to see. While you aren't supposed to take it upon yourself to report the sexual assault of a survivor who is an adult, you are legally required to report it when it happens to kids.

5. We make rape jokes.

Let's make this really, unquestionable clear: Rape jokes are not funny ever.

6. We laugh at rape jokes.

More clarity: Even if you are not the one making the joke, you also don't need to be the one laughing.

Your laughter still helps create a culture that says rape should not be taken seriously. Be brave and correct people when they make light of sexual assault.

7. We don't believe them.

Yes, there have been instances of people lying about being sexually assaulted. Their numbers pale in comparison to the ones who are not lying.

8. We react with violence toward the perpetrator.

Sexual assault survivors don't come forward for a number of reasons. One of the must overlooked reasons is their fear of how the people who care about them will react. They often fear that they will retaliate against the attacker and create a bigger mess.

Not all sexual assault survivors can manage their trauma and manage your anger. Don't make it about you.


9. We talk about the attacker's credentials.

Your "but he was such a nice guy!" or, "but he's the captain of the football team!" is unnecessary. Who GAF?

Attackers come in all shapes, sizes and credentials.

10. We don't listen.

When a sexual assault survivor comes to you, the general rule is this: If you're doing more talking than listening, then you're doing it wrong.

11. We don't teach enough about the definition of consent.

The consent conversation needs to go deeper than just, "No means no." Not saying no doesn't automatically mean "yes" either.

It should be common sense that anyone who is drunk, in prison, mentally ill or underage cannot give consent. And just because you had sex with someone before doesn't mean you always have access to their bodies.

We need to have more conversations about this with adolescents so they know the deal before they even hit middle school.


12. We encourage the "boys will be boys" narrative.

"Boys" can be taught to treat "girls" with respect. Period. Sexual assault is not something you chalk up as a mere gender flaw.

13. We teach young girls the "he hits you because he likes you" BS.

This childhood joke is irksome when you really pick it apart.

When we teach young girls this narrative, we raise them to believe that men have access to their bodies and free reign to abuse them. We also teach young boys that the way to express their "like" is by physical violation instead of verbal communication.

14. We assume women can't be raped by significant others.

Spousal rape (also known as "marital rape" or "partner rape") is real.

Being in a relationship with someone does not disqualify anyone from their power to give or withdraw consent.

Writer Thordis Elva shared her experience of her first boyfriend raping her -- after she already lost her virginity to him.

One night when she was black out drunk, her boyfriend raped her for two hours while she was unconscious. She shares the emotional story of them working through their past by meeting up in South Africa, in her book, "South of Forgiveness."

15. We assume men can't be raped at all.

Men can be raped by both other men and women. RAINN reports,

"About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime."

That 3 percent matters as much as the many women who are sexually assaulted.

16. We care more based on race, sexual orientation and gender.

The LGBTQ+ community and black people are the most susceptible to sexual assault on college campuses.

To top it all off, a recent study shows that white women are more likely to help rescue another white woman they see who is about to be assaulted, than black women.

That's not OK. Everyone deserves to be protected from sexual assault.

17. We tell their business.

You would think this would be a no-brainer, but sometimes our mouths do the most damage, even when we have the best intentions.

It is not your place to tell the story of a sexual assault survivor. Let them share if they want to share.

18. We tell them how they should heal.

Offer your advice if they ask, but do not criticize how a sexual assault survivor goes about healing from their trauma.

Not everyone heals the same. Some go to therapy; others go to church. Either way, they decide.