How to Help
Essentials For Helping
Helping a sexual assault survivor can be an overwhelming experience. There are several things you can do to provide support during this person’s time of need.
- Listen: Let survivors talk about their feelings and experience, without advising or asking too many questions.
- Believe: Assure survivors that you believe them. Many survivors think they will be percieved as liars.
- Support: Do not make decisions for survivors. Allow them to decide what course of action to take next and support their decisions.
- Identify Resources: Help survivors identify any campus or community sources of support and information.
- Acknowledge your limitations: Realistically identify your abilities to assist survivors. Seek assistance when you know you have reached your limits for helping.
- Take care of yourself: Assisting someone in need can be stressful. Set aside time for yourself and your daily responsibilities so that you don't feel overwhelmed by his or her problems. Get help if you need it - you don’t have to know everything or “do it all.
Barriers to Getting Help
Talking about the incident with a professional may prove to be immensely helpful for your student. There are, however, several barriers that often prevent victims from seeking help. It is a good idea to become aware of and understand some of the barriers so that you do not isolate your student with pressure and to seek assistance. Some of the barriers facing your student include:
- Confusion and denial about what happened before and during the assault
- Shame and self-blame—a belief s/he was somehow to blame for the assault, or could have prevented it
- Stigma or discrimination that may occur if s/he reveals the assault
- Anxiety about losing control over anonymity, privacy and personal identity
- Lack of knowledge about his/her legal and civil rights or options
- Fear of retaliation for disclosing the identity of, or taking action against, an assailant
How Supporting Victims Impacts You
As the supporter of a survivor, you may find yourself having a variety of reactions to the assault. You may have reactions of grief, anger, frustration, and devastation that may be surprising to you. Unfortunately, you may not feel you have an outlet for your feelings of frustration, and you may transfer your anger or frustration to the survivor.
This can especially happen when:
- You are feeling taxed or burnt out emotionally because the need for understanding and patience seems unending.
- You may feel that "the survivor should put the assault behind her/him now and move on with life."
- You feel anger towards the survivor for decisions you may feel "allowed the incident to occur". Debunking the myths about sexual assault and talking to someone at Sexual Assault Services is a better way to deal with that frustration.
- You know the perpetrator, or mutual friends are involved. The perpetrator may be telling others a different version of the incident that can cause you to have feelings of anger, rage or doubt about the survivor's story. These feelings are normal, and but you must also to remember to be accepting and supportive of the survivor.
- Put aside your feelings, and deal with them somewhere else.
How to Take Action
- Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center
- Start an anti-violence project at your school or community center
- Talk to your friends and family members about your commitment to ending dating violence and sexual assault
- Be a role model for healthy relationships
- Post your support for anti-violence work on social networking sites
Other Things to Know
- The survivor is in no way responsible for the assault or for the decisions she/he made leading up to the assault. Regardless of the clothes she/he was wearing, where she/he was, whether she/he was drinking, knew the perpetrator or not, or fought back or did not, the survivor is never to blame for the assault.
- Sexual assault is a frightening experience that takes time to recover from. It is a normal part of the recovery process for someone to still be affected by some part of their sexual assault experience years after the assault or abuse.
- Sexual assault is an act of violence. Sexual assault is not consensual sexual activity, and is not “cheating” on one’s partner.
- It is more common for survivors to choose not to report to police than it is for them to report to the police. Some reasons survivors may choose not to report are fear of retaliation, fear of people finding out, fear of not being believed, not wanting to hurt the perpetrator (if known to her/him), or length of the court process.