Live Without Fear

  • Two women in happy conversation. How to support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

How to Support a Victim of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault

It is important to learn as much as you can about the impact and effects of domestic violence or sexual assault. It’s also important to remember there is no one way to react to trauma. Being present and bearing witness to someone’s trauma and story not only empowers them but also shows concern, support, and provides validation during a very difficult time.

In addition to recognizing some of the symptoms, there are things you can say to help during this difficult time.

Keep telling her “it’s not your fault.”

Never blame your friend. Don’t let her blame herself. Domestic violence and rape are never the victim’s fault, even if she did not yell for help or fight back or was drinking.

Let her know that her survival is what is really important.

It will be reassuring to her to hear that what is most important is that she is alive and got through the experience as best she could. Questions like “Why did you go there alone?” are blaming, not reassuring.

Tell her that you believe she was sexually assaulted.

If you communicate that you believe her, you will be helping your friend a great deal. If she says she was raped, then that’s enough even if she didn’t scream or there was no evidence of harm.

Let her know you will support her by listening to her.

Be supportive by listening, not judging. Be supportive by listening, not prying. Let her take her time to share the details. Let her share only what she is willing to.

Ask her what she needs from you instead of telling her how to handle herself.

Let her be in control of who knows about the assault and how she manages her life. This will help her feel she is regaining the control she lost by being victimized.

Tell her it’s OK to talk about her feelings for as long as she needs to.

It’s normal to feel angry, afraid, anxious and depressed. If her feelings intensify and seem to continue to overwhelm her and she is not reaching out for professional help, support her in getting help.

Talk with her about safety planning.

Many friends and family members focus on convincing their friends to leave the violent relationship. In reality, the time of leaving can be the most dangerous. Allow your friend the space and time necessary to contemplate her future and her safety. A safety plan is the best place to start. HAVEN has trained staff who can help, or read about making an escape plan here.

Tell her about HAVEN.

She may be feeling alone, scared or confused. Not knowing where to go or whom to ask for help can make a traumatic experience even scarier. By letting her know organizations like HAVEN are here to help, you can help her ease some of those feelings and start to focus on gaining back control of her life.

Excerpts are taken from Adolescent Sexual and Harassment Prevention Curriculum, by Marjorie Fink, C.S.W.

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