Supporting Survivors On the Path to Healing from Sexual Assault 

By Meghan Dunlap

Recovering from sexual assault can feel like you’re within a silo. You hear the statistics of 81% of women report sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime, and it pulls at your heartstrings, but it’s hard to grasp in real life. The reality is that every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. One day someone close to you may disclose they have been sexually assaulted. Whether it is a family member, partner, friend, or coworker. How can you help? 

Sexual assault is an extremely traumatic experience that can leave a survivor with lasting effects on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Supporting someone who has disclosed they have been assaulted, as an ally, friend, or family member, can look different in a lot of ways.   


It’s natural to feel unsure about how to support a survivor of sexual assault during this delicate time. There are some main points you should know when supporting them, the main one being - let them lead. This helps build trust within the space you have created and can be the biggest support they may have available.   


1. Listen Without Judgment  

Disclosing your sexual assault as a survivor can be nerve-wracking. Although sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor, they can already be afraid to disclose or feel shame for the event itself. When you approach a survivor without judgement or as just a safe space to listen, it can build trust between you and the survivor. Try not to interrupt or offer unsolicited advice. Try active listening, validating their experience and feelings, along with assuring them of your unconditional support.  RAINN has more tips on talking and listening to survivors. 


2. Respect Their Autonomy  

It is crucial to respect and honor a survivor’s autonomy. Try not to pressure them into any decisions. Whether it is reporting to law enforcement or seeking professional help, it is completely up to the survivor on their next steps. You are there to support their decisions, offer resources if asked but ultimately their next steps are decided by them. Their road to healing is their journey.   


3. Offer Practical Support  

Once the survivor has decided what their next steps will be, ask them what you can do to help. Whether that’s transportation to appointments, helping them find professional support options that fit their needs, being a hand to hold when they call a hotline, or whatever you feel comfortable doing for them.  And sometimes, a survivor just doesn’t know what they want. This is a time when they may feel dysregulated and making decisions can seem daunting.  


4. Take Care of Yourself  

Supporting a survivor of sexual assault can be emotionally challenging at times. Those who are exposed to the details of their assault can experience something called “vicarious trauma” . Meaning you take on some of the trauma of their experience. Try some self-care activities and setting boundaries such as putting your phone on silent mode during the self-care activities and checking in with your own support system if needed.   


Supporting someone who is a survivor of sexual assault requires compassion, empathy and understanding. By listening, respecting their autonomy and boundaries while providing practical support you can create a safe space for them to heal.  

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, numerous resources are available to provide support and assistance.  

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, has 24/7 confidential support either on the phone or through an online chat feature.  

The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative has a comprehensive list of supportive resources for survivors.  

While the road to healing is their own journey, survivors do not always have to walk it alone.


TAGS: #BWJP Announcements #Gender Based Violence #News

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