How to Respond When Someone Tells You They Were Sexually Abused

How to Respond When Someone Tells You They Were Sexually Abused or Raped

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If someone you know shares their story of assault with you, you don’t need to be an expert but you can be a resource. Kim Curran, APNP, UnityPoint Health – Meriter, explains how you can help sexual victims. 

The Facts 

  1. Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted (RAINN: Rape Abuse & Incest National Network). It’s nearly statistically impossible for you not to know someone affected by violence. 
  2. According to RAINN out of every 100 rapes, 32 get reported to the police, 7 will lead to an arrest, 3 are referred to prosecutors, 2 lead to a felony conviction and 2 rapists will spend time in prison. The other 98 percent of rapists will go free.  
  3. Rape can happen to anyone, female or male. It is never the victim’s fault.

How can you help victims of sexual assault? 

Someone you know just told you they were sexually assaulted or raped. What should you do? 

text conversation around sexual assaultBe a resource! Here are some helpful responses to a disclosure. 

1. Believe Them

It’s very rare for someone to lie about being assaulted. It doesn’t matter if he’s cute, she liked him or she was into him; sex should only happen when both people want it to happen. Regardless of the age of your friend, they need you to believe them. Sexual assault takes power away from a person and, especially with children, believing them is directly linked to how they will heal.  

2. Ask “What can I do to help?”

Communicate without judgment, be supportive and give choices on what to do next. You can make a difference by supporting their choices to involve or not involve the authorities. Do not call law enforcement or anyone else without your friend’s consent. Doing so can make them feel worse. Assault takes away power and they need to make that choice to take back power and control. Be supportive, but also remember to take care of yourself. It is hard to hear about this type of violence. 

3. Relay powerful messages

Reassure your friend by saying things like: a. I’m sorry this happened to you. b. I’m glad you survived. c. It’s not your fault. d. You don’t need to go through this alone, I’m here. 

4. Address Medical Concerns

If someone is sexually assaulted, a medical exam is recommended to address the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, address pregnancy and provide evidence if the victim decides to pursue legal action. It is always better to have this exam performed by trained professionals such as the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program at UnityPoint Health – Meriter, the only program of its kind in Dane County. The Forensic Nurse Examiner Program staff is specially trained to treat victims of sexual assault. 

Shift the Perspective 

Unfortunately violence is very prevalent in our society. Look at video games where you are awarded points for raping someone, movies about objectifying and abusing women and music lyrics about the keeping women in line. Think about your mom, dad, sibling, friend or cousin. Let’s help shift the focus to the responsible party: the rapist. 

About the Forensic Nurse Examiner’s Program. 

Sixty-eight percent of the patients seen by the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program at UnityPoint Health – Meriter in 2015 reported being assaulted to the police. Getting the victim to a knowledgeable service provider is key and can be the difference between a conviction and the rapist going free. 

Specially trained staff with the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program can explain the importance of DNA evidence, document injuries with photographs, provide preventative medications and explain the importance of the exam. In addition, the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program can also provide a vital link to other community resources for counseling, safety planning and safe housing options.

Learn more about the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program.

How can you support the Forensic Nurse Examiners Program? 

Make a gift to support the program through the UnityPoint Health – Meriter Foundation.