Sexual assault, and rape, may once have been something women were ashamed to talk about, but now it’s okay to speak out. Letting the world know that we aren’t letting these things slide any longer is important. We’re fighting back and a large part of our battle is sharing our stories and spreading awareness. Often the first people a victim of sexual assault or rape will turn to is a close friend or family member. Your reaction to what they have to say might not seem like a huge deal, but it is. Saying the wrong thing can not only send the wrong message but it can destroy your relationship with someone you love. Here are a few tips on the best ways to respond when you find yourself in this kind of situation.
How To React
Let them talk. What they’re telling you is hard enough to get out without you interrupting, so give them the time they need to choose their words. Being attentive will ensure that you truly hear what your friend is saying so you can respond properly.
Don’t Make It About You
Often when people tell us something we try to contribute to the conversation by sharing a relatable experience. While this is normal during everyday conversation, it’s important not to do this when someone is sharing their sexual assault or rape experience. Focus on them, their feelings, and the actions they’re taking towards healing.
Respect Their Emotions
Whether you’re the first person they’re telling their story to or the tenth, it doesn’t always get easier. Everyone has a different reaction to traumatic experiences. They might come off as distant or they might start crying. Your friend might even laugh, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they find what happened to them funny. No matter where their emotions are, respect that and comfort them the best you can.
How To Respond
Tell Them It’s Not Their Fault
Unfortunately, our society has normalized placing the blame on victims when it comes to rape and sexual assault. For this reason, it’s important that you make sure your friend doesn’t see it this way. Telling them it’s not their fault is a great way to begin a dialog after she is finished describing her experience.
Be Mindful Of Your Tone
Your friend is vulnerable and might be extra sensitive to your response. Be mindful of not only the words you use in your response, but also the tone you use. Even a facial expression can come off as judgemental or give off the impression that you don’t believe something they’ve said.
Be There For Them
Initially, telling them how sorry you are that this happened to them and that you’re there for them is a great way to react. But then you actually need to be there for them. The healing process is long and often neverending. You can’t expect them to simply “get over it,” as the effects of assault can leave victims struggling for the rest of their lives. Check in with them every now and then, ask them about the actions they’re taking towards healing, and let them vent when they need to.
What Not To Do
Don’t Make Excuses For The Rapist
There’s no excuse for sexual assault or rape. Even if you know the person that your friend has identified as their abuser, it’s not the time or even your place to defend them. He wasn’t too drunk. He wasn’t confused about her consent. You need to be on your friend’s side.
Don’t Accuse Them Of Lying
One of the biggest reasons victims don’t come forward is because they’re often not believed. Women have to prove they’re victims of sexual assault when it should be the other way around. When you tell a woman that you think they’re lying about their rape or assault, you’re telling them that they don’t matter. That no one will believe them, whether it’s the police, detectives, doctors, or family members. They’re less likely to come forward about this rape and future assaults, allowing their perpetrators to attack again.
Don’t Blame Them
Don’t ask them what they were wearing, or tell them you told them not to go to that party or that club. Don’t ask them if they were drinking or if they were leading him on. It’s not their fault. They could have been walking around naked drunk as a skunk, that’s still not means for consent.