How to Respond When Someone Tells You They Were Sexually Abused

ER - Madison

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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. 

The Facts:

  • Statistically, it is nearly impossible for you not to know someone affected by violence. According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. 
  • And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. 
  • Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. 
  • Rape can happen to anyone, female or male. It is never the victim’s fault.

Helping Victims of Sexual Assault 

Here are some good guidelines to keep in mind if someone confides in you that they've experienced something traumatizing:

1. Believe Them

text conversation around sexual assault

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. Be Supportive 

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

One of the best ways to support a sexual assault victim is by simply validating their experiences. Offer reassurance by saying this 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 at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. 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 and song 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.