Helping a friend that has been sexually assaulted
If your friend was sexually assaulted, she or he may experience the following:
- Mood swings
- Disturbances in eating and sleeping habits
- Inability to concentrate or relax
- Resurfacing memories of past abuse
For some, the emotional impact of sexual assault can be immediate and short term. For others the effects can be long lasting. Your friend may find it helpful to talk to a counselor trained to understand and assist survivors of sexual assault.
What you can do:
Believe unconditionally. People rarely lie about being sexually assaulted. Be sure your friend knows how much you support her or him.
Let the survivor control the situation. Let your friend determine the pace of healing. Help your friend understand the options available, and encourage your friend to keep her or his options open. Most importantly, allow your friend to make her or his own decisions.
Assure your friend that it was not her or his fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Avoid blaming questions and judgmental phrases such as, "Why didn't you scream?" or "If I ever get my hands on the creep..." or "I would have done this..." Avoid searching for things your friends should have done.
Show you want to listen. A friend may confide in you ten minutes or ten years after the assault. At that time, it doesn't matter so much what you say but how well you listen. Remember that your friend's sense of trust has been violated, so one of the most important things you can do is respect her or his need for confidentiality.
Encourage your friend to get medical attention as soon as possible. Your friend can receive medical attention from a private doctor, clinic or hospital emergency room.
Don't be afraid to ask for outside help. Your friend may need medical attention or counseling. Offer to help your friend access outside services.
- The Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Liaison can provide support, information and referrals for your friend. Staff members can provide information on accessing medical care, law enforcement and judicial options, housing relocation and safety planning, as well as counseling options.
- For after-hours and off-campus assistance, DC Rape Crisis Center offers a 24-hour hotline, accompaniment to the emergency room, and individual and group counseling for survivors.
Regardless of how much time has passed since the assault, your friend can receive individual and/or group therapy through the Counseling and Psychiatric Service at Georgetown Law or the DC Rape Crisis Center.
Understand your own feelings. You may also feel confused, hurt, angry, or frightened. Such feelings are normal.
Don't be afraid to ask for outside help. Find someone other than the survivor to talk with about your feelings. Talking with someone else may help you understand your own emotions and give you a clearer perspective on the situation. Many of the services available for your friend are also available for you.
Know and respect your own limits. There is only so much you can do to help your friend. You can provide support, compassion, and companionship when your friend wants it, but try not to make commitments that you can't fulfill.
Keep the rest of your life on track. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Allowing other aspects of your life to slip through the cracks will only increase your emotional stress.
Remember that it was not your fault. You may feel guilty, thinking that somehow you could have prevented your friend's sexual assault. Don't forget that sexual assault is a violent crime and you are not to blame.
Realize that coping with sexual assault is a long-term process. The Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Liaison also provides information on other forms of violence and abuse, including resources for survivors of child sexual abuse, relationship violence, stalking, and same-sex violence.