It’s not easy to hear someone you love was the victim of a sexual assault. However, if a child, teenager, or adult comes to you for emotional support, it’s important to be there and be ready to listen. The following are some tips for providing emotional support and companionship to someone who discloses to you:
- Stay calm. It is completely natural to have feelings of shock, rage, and disgust when a victim tells their story, but it is important to keep these emotions in check. Children and teenagers may especially be confused or discomforted if you react too strongly.
- Believe and reaffirm. Acknowledge what happened and make it clear that you believe them. Reaffirm that the assault was not their fault.
- Be available. One of the best things you can do is to just be physically available and present. Let them scream, cry, or simply sit in silence with you.
- Give them control. If you are a parent or an older relative, it is natural to want to take control. However, it’s important not to wrest all decisions away from the victim. Offer next step suggestions and affirm that you will help them in whatever decision they make.
- Always ask before offering physical support. Don’t hug or cuddle a victim of sexual assault without first asking. Let them control this aspect of the conversation and establish what they are and are not comfortable with.
- Do not make threats. Physical threats of harm against the perpetrator are not helpful to anyone and may cause undue worry or stress to the victim.
- Let the authorities handle the criminal case. While it’s tempting to confront your loved one’s assailant, doing so can tamper a legal investigation. Advise, assist, but do not intervene.
- Get them in contact with professionals. The legal authorities are not the only authorities who can help following an assault. Offer to find and connect your loved one with a local counseling center or therapist. Consider also the benefits a civil litigation team such as our might provide.
- Be patient. Healing from an assault can take years, and the person you knew before the assailant may never be the same again after. The key is to be there, be patient, and be open.