Supporting a friend or partner after sexual assault
Supporting someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted can be stressful, so it’s important to look after yourself as well and to ask for help if you need it. If you are finding it difficult to cope, you may want to think about having counselling or psychological support. We all have limits and it is best to offer the level of support you feel able to sustain.
It is important to remember that you are not responsible for your friend or partner’s problem, and if they won’t seek help you are not responsible for their actions or the consequences. Your role is simply to support them and provide a listening ear.
Read the College's guidance on what to do following sexual assault for advice and details on support organisations.
The Havens can provide information to friends or family on behalf of someone who has been sexually assaulted, and can advise friends and family on sources of support for themselves.
The following advice is adapted from the Havens' website.
Your friend, relative or partner is trying to make sense of what has happened. It can take time but with your support you can help to ease their trauma and come to terms with the assault.
The following simple guidelines give you some ideas about how you can help.
LISTEN, DON’T QUESTION
Listen to them but try not to ask for details. They might not want to tell you everything that happened. Let them know that you are ready to listen whenever they want to talk.
Don’t ask why the rape or sexual assault happened or why they didn’t stop it happening. It can sound as if you blame them, which could feel like another attack on them.
Believe what they are saying and tell them this.
LET THEM SHOW HOW THEY’RE FEELING
Allow them to cry whenever they need to. You might find it upsetting but it is important that they are able to show their emotions.
ASK ABOUT TOUCHING
Respect their feelings about being touched by you and give them some space. Many people who have been raped or sexually assaulted don’t want to be touched, especially in the days after the assault. Even a comforting hug might upset them. Ask them if it’s OK, or let them make the first move.
If you are in a sexual relationship, accept that they may find sex frightening at the moment. Respect their wishes and don’t put any pressure on them to have sex.
OFFER PRACTICAL SUPPORT
Try offering some practical support, such as asking them if they would like you to come with them to any appointments. You are welcome to come with them to appointments at the Havens, but staff will want to speak to them on their own during their visit, so they have a chance to talk and ask questions about everything they need to.
RESPECT THEIR DECISIONS
People who have been assaulted have to make lots of choices. Report the assault? Get checked out at a clinic? Ask for counselling? These might seem easy to you but they can be awkward, embarrassing and very hard for them. But they need to make these decisions themselves. Don’t persuade or put pressure on them. And don’t go behind their backs to do what you think is the right thing.
LET THEM REMEMBER
Don’t tell them to forget about what has happened. It will take time for them to work through their feelings and memories. You can help by listening to them and being patient.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
Don’t become the injured party. Your friend, relative or partner needs to focus all their energy on themselves, so they may not have enough strength to support or care for you at this time.