What do I do if my loved one has been assaulted?

Support for Family and Friends

How do I support my loved one who has been assaulted?

1 in 3 girls and women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 1 in 6 boys and men are sexually assaulted by the age of 16. The first and most important thing that you can do is to believe your loved one.

Sexual assault affects everyone — directly or through the experiences of those we care about. If someone you care about has been sexually assaulted, you can help.

When it happens, survivors may be uncertain of where to turn for help. They hesitate. Should they call the police? Go to the emergency room? Where can they get support in making these decisions? For answers to these questions, call our 24/7 Crisis Line: 707-545-7273

When It is Someone You Know

When someone you know or care about has been assaulted, it is normal for you to feel upset and confused. At a time when you may want to help most, you will be dealing with a crisis of your own.

You may find it difficult to listen when s/he needs to talk about his or her feelings. You may hope that by not talking about it, the feelings both of you have will go away.

You may be tempted to make decisions for the survivor, to be over-protective. You may want to hide the assault from others. You may feel disturbed or confused when the survivor continues to be affected for weeks, months, and even years.

Some partners may want more physical intimacy sooner than the survivor does. Others may feel resistant.

Maybe you feel guilty and responsible, believing you could somehow prevent the assault. You may also feel anger at the survivor or at everyone in general.

All of these feelings are understandable following the sexual assault of someone you love. Please know that if these feelings are hidden or expressed in hurtful ways, they can interfere with the resolution of your crisis and that of the survivor.

The survivor may need your support and understanding. You, however, also need support. Call 707-545-7270 ext. 14 about counseling.

Sexual assault is a violent crime, not a sexually-motivated or gratifying act. The rapist’s aim is to dominate, humiliate, control and degrade the victim. Because the same body parts are involved in sexual assault as in consensual sex, many people confuse sex and violence. Some respond to a survivor as if they provoked, wanted, or enjoyed it.

Many people also believe rape is not traumatic. Not understanding the reality of sexual assault can make the crisis more difficult for both of you. The emotional impact of sexual assault does not disappear, and talking about it can help. Your feelings are normal, and resources are available for you too.

Family members, spouses, and partners

When someone you know or care about has been assaulted, it is normal for you to feel upset and confused. At a time when you may want to help most, you will be dealing with a crisis of your own.

Your help is important to the survivor of sexual assault. It is natural for her or him to feel a tremendous loss of power and control over life. You can emphasize that just surviving is an accomplishment, and whatever (s)he did to survive was the right thing to do. It shows strength.

A survivor may feel anger, guilt, fear, anxiety, shame or depression. You may feel pain, sorrow, disgust — or be impatient with the recovery process. You may blame yourself, or the survivor — or want revenge. You may be tempted to make decisions for the survivor, to be over-protective. You may want to hide the assault from others. You may feel disturbed or confused when the survivor continues to be affected for weeks, months, and even years.

Here are a few things you can do to help the survivor:

      • Tell them you believe them, and it’s not their fault.
      • Listen, but be honest and gently tell them if you cannot handle the details.
      • Do not push them to talk, but be available to listen and help if needed.
      • Help the survivor with options for immediate medical and legal concerns.
      • Do not take control. Support the survivor’s decisions, even if you disagree.
      • Encourage them to seek support from trained professionals.

Deal with your own feelings and don’t let them overshadow those of the survivor. Learn more about sexual assault so you can help in the healing process. Do not hesitate to seek help from trained professionals in dealing with your feelings.

If my partner has been assaulted, how do I deal with our sexual relationship?

Try to talk openly and gently about this with your partner. It is vital to communicate. Let your partner’s needs guide your actions. Your partner’s attitude about sexuality may affect you. Consider seeing a counselor to talk about your feelings. Remember, most survivors recover from the trauma and lead healthy, loving lives.

If your partner wants to refrain from sexual activity, it is essential that you honor those wishes. Otherwise (s)he may feel rushed or frightened by your desire to be sexual. Remember that pressure or coercion to have sex is sexual assault and it is a crime.