Sexual Assault Program
WHAT TO DO IF YOU OR A FRIEND IS RAPED OR ASSAULTED
How does sexual assault affect a
person? How does sexual assault affect those closest to the victim? How can you help? Far
more than anyone else, it is the people closest to the victim who influence how the victim will
deal with the assault.
Most victims react to the terror and the fear that is involved with "I could have been killed."
The best way for you to understand what the victim is feeling is to try to remember a situation
where you felt powerless and afraid. You may remember feeling very alone and needing comfort.
Often a sexually assaulted person badly needs care and support. Try to show, in your own way,
that you care and would like to help.
It is advisable and therapeutic for a victim of sexual
assault to talk about it but it is not helpful to force talk before the victim is ready. People
who listen to a victim many times wonder if it actually happened or if it happened exactly the
way the victim tells it. This attitude can easily be harmful because it probably will cause
anxiety and guilt at a time when the person needs to have those very feelings lessened by your
support and trust.
You should allow the victim to talk about his or her immediate concerns. Remember, too, the
victim may want to talk about other things. After the assault the victim may concentrate on
other problems and it is important that he or she can talk about them. They may include
transportation, safe housing, safety, etc. Probably the most important thing to remember is
that you should show that you are willing to let the victim talk.
But the victim might find it impossible to talk to you. This is sometimes the case when the
victim is very sensitive to how you feel about the assault. If the assault distresses you
greatly, the victim may try to protect your feelings. Or, the victim might find it hard to face
you because of your close relationship.
If this is the case, encourage the victim to talk to someone else he or she trusts. Remember
that the assault has brought about feelings of powerlessness. The victim has experienced an
overwhelming event that demonstrates vividly that there are times when a person has no control
over what happens in his or her life. It is very important to be able to talk about this in
order to regain confidence and to get rid of feelings of shame or guilt over the experience.
Most often victims need support from their peers or family members, but if necessary you should
encourage the person to seek professional help. This is not a sign of weakness or failure
either on your part or on the victimís part.
Whether or not counseling is sought, it is not a replacement for warm, concerned, loving
communication. A counselor may help get things in perspective again but he or she cannot take
your place in the victimís life.
Sexual assault not only affects the victim but also you, because it plays on your own fears.
Try to recognize the fears for what they are- otherwise you may end up projecting them on the
victim. This can cause serious problems in your relationship with the victim. Give the victim
the right to make his or her own decisions. Donít be over-protective.
It should also be noted that if the victim has pressed charges, the whole process of prosecution
involves a lot of stress. Your awareness of the legal process and problems involved will be
important and helpful to the victim.