When a loved one discloses that they have experienced sexual violence, it can be difficult to know what to say. For many survivors, it takes a lot of courage to talk about their assault. Your reactions really make a difference.
Sexual violence affects people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, nationalities, abilities, and can occur across the lifespan. While many people have a pre-conceived idea or image of a survivor, it is important to remember that sexual violence affects all communities. All survivors deserve support and services.
Here are a few phrases that will help you support and empower the survivor in your life.
1.“I believe you” & “I’m sorry this happened to you”
This simple phrase can have a powerful and positive impact on a survivor. Many survivors are afraid that no one will believe them and, as a result, do not want to seek support services and/or report the crime to law enforcement. Your support can empower your loved one as they heal and seek justice in a way that works for them.
2. “What do you want to do?”
Sexual violence is not caused by passionate feelings about another person; it is crime about asserting control and dominance over another person. An important step in a survivor’s recovery is regaining that control in their life. You can help by regularly giving them options (but be careful not to overwhelm them).
If your loved one discloses the incident to you, ask if they want to go the hospital or report to law enforcement, especially if the assault was recent. An advocate at your local sexual assault center can help them navigate their options over the phone or in person. Be sure to respect and support their choices regardless of their decision.
3.“It doesn’t matter if you…” & “It is not your fault…”
Our culture puts a lot of blame on survivors, and many internalize this blame. Remind the survivor that no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. It does not matter if the survivor was out late, or wearing a “revealing” outfit, or intoxicated. Sexual assault is a crime.
4.“I’m here if you need me” or “Do you need help finding a sexual violence advocate?”
Survivors will face many challenges after the assault. From managing trauma, to finding resources, and to (potentially) facing victim blaming, your support will be very helpful during this time. It is important to do some self-evaluation. Be sure to only offer support you feel comfortable giving. If you are also going through an emotionally turbulent time in your own life, be sure to encourage your loved one to increase their support system. This can include offering to help them find the local rape crisis center and an advocate.
This may be a difficult conversion for you and your loved one to have, but it is better to say something awkwardly than say nothing at all! We hope that these phrases will help feel more comfortable beginning this conversation.