April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and, as such, below are 5 tips on how to care for a sexual assault survivor:
- Listen without judgement. It is NEVER the survivor’s fault, regardless of what he or she wears, looks like, or behaves. Most rapes and assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows, including spouses, boyfriends or other previous intimate partners. Being in a relationship with someone does not translate to an obligation to have sex or perform sexual acts for that person. It is also within a survivor’s right to say no or change their mind about sex at any point.
- Offer to be there. Reporting sexual assault is very difficult. In fact, 68% of assaults are not reported to the police. For those who choose to report, the medical testing and the process of having to tell their story to a stranger can feel invasive and shaming. So offer to go with them or be there afterwards. If they choose not to report, that is their right. Many survivors state that when they have chosen not to report that sadly, some friends or family do not believe them. Don’t shame them for this decision.
- Encourage them to get support. Encourage them to seek help from others, whether that is a therapist, support group, or a support phone line. Survivors often feel a multitude of emotions, ranging from shame, guilt, and fear to feeling a renewed sense of life. This mix of emotions can be very confusing. It is important that the survivor processes these feelings in a healthy way.
- Be patient. Everyone processes their trauma differently. There is no recovery timeline or “right” way to deal with the trauma. Processing everything can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years.
- Encourage them to take care of themselves. Self-care is important for everyone, but it can become challenging to take care of ourselves in times of stress. Depression and anxiety are also very common after an assault, and survivors may need extra help to ensure they are eating and sleeping well. While you never want to push too hard, gently encourage them to spend time with friends and family so they don’t isolate.
If you or someone you know is confused about consent, just remember, it’s as simple as tea.