Has someone you care about been affected by sexual assault or rape?
Your feelings about the sexual abuse or rape they have experienced may be very complicated, whether it happened recently or a long time ago.
It is important to recognise these feelings and think about how to manage them so that you can provide the best possible support to your family member or friend.
By being supportive, respectful and non-judgmental you can help them to recover and live a full and meaningful life.
Anything you tell us is confidential and you can also speak to us anonymously
Call Blue Sky Centre on 0800 970 0370
Anyone can find themselves supporting a relative, a friend or partner who has been raped or sexually assaulted. Rape and sexual assault are terrifying experiences and everybody reacts differently. Some people will be visibly upset, others will feel numb, and some will appear to carry on ‘as normal’ and try to get straight back to a regular routine – all reactions are normal and valid.
Talk to your friend or family member in a safe, confidential environment where they will feel relaxed.
Listen to what they have to say. Try not to interrupt or ask too many questions.
Let them make their own decisions. It’s important that your loved one feels that they have support, whether they decide to involve the police or not.
It can be hard to know how to support someone who has suffered an assault and difficult to know what to say. There are no rules setting out exactly how to respond: listening and being there are the most important things you can do.
The recovery process can take months, even years.
There are however a few things to remember:
Do not apply myths about victim behaviour to what they tell you. They may find it difficult to explain what happened in a clear and consistent way. This is because sexual assault and rape are traumatic experiences. The body and brain can react in complex ways resulting in memories that are confused. People’s reactions at the time may seem almost illogical to those who assume that victims will struggle and shout, or report it straight away. Quite often victims do none of these things due to their brain telling them to freeze.
Ask them how you may be able to help but give them time and space to respond and respect their decisions. Restoring their sense of control over themselves and their life is vital in helping them to begin to recover from what has happened to them. At that stage they may not want to involve the police and that should be respected.
Reassure them that their feelings are normal. This includes feelings of self-blame and guilt but remind them that responsibility lies with the person who did this to them.
Check that they are now physically safe and if not help them to make arrangements to become safe. Tell them that you are there to help and offer information about Blue Sky Centre.
Do not make promises you cannot keep.
Talk to your partner, relative or friend and let them know you are there to listen when they are ready. They may not want to tell you everything that has happened, and some people never disclose all the details to their family and friends. This doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you. They may be trying to protect you from the pain they know it will cause.
Try not to ask why the rape or sexual assault happened, or why your loved one didn’t stop the assault. Many people initially blame themselves and you need to help them realise that they are not to blame for being assaulted.
Encourage your partner, relative or friend to talk about how they are feeling. Encouraging them to express these feelings can be very positive. Many people tend to block out these emotions as they can be too uncomfortable or they don’t want to distress you.
If you find that you need additional support or advice, you can call the Blue Sky Centre on 0800 970 0370 or your GP to refer you to a counsellor.
The decision to report the assault to the police is up to the person who has been assaulted. Only contact the police yourself if they have given you their permission to involve the police.
Rape and abuse take away a person’s power and control. It is important that they are given their control back by:
- Allowing them to speak about the rape or assault in their own time.
- Allowing them to make any decisions.
- Giving them their choices not what you think they should do.
The decision of whether to report the crime to the police is a very difficult one. Many people decide that they do not want to face going through a possible court case. They may be ashamed of discussing what actually happened and prefer to cope with the effects of the rape or sexual assault without police help. They may also feel unable to face their attacker and find the idea of going to court traumatic. You or your loved one can contact the Blue Sky Centre for information on 0800 970 0370.
Whatever your partner, relative or friend decides, give practical support where possible. For example, offer to go with them to any appointments such as to the Blue Sky Centre or to the police.
When supporting someone who has been assaulted anger can be a common reaction. Make sure your partner, relative or friend knows you are not angry with them. The person you are supporting may be feeling that they are to blame for what happened and could be even more sensitive to your reactions and thoughts.
You may feel frustrated because you were unable to prevent the rape or assault from happening or protect your loved one. Realise that you cannot put things right, be patient, find out what would help them, and this will help you deal with your own feelings.
Our partner agencies, Safeline, RoSA and CRASAC can offer counselling to people who are supporting a family member or friend following a sexual assault or rape.
We understand that you may feel confused about what they are going through and how you can best give your support. You may also have your own strong feelings about what has happened and what should happen now.
Speaking with one of their specialist counsellors can help you to make sense of your own feelings, understand what might be going on for your friend or family member and enable you to give them good support.