Supporting someone that has been sexually assaulted
You do not have to be a counsellor or a therapist to support someone who has experienced sexualized violence to respond to or support someone that has been sexually assaulted. If you are hearing a disclosure, it means that you have already gained some trust with the person who is telling you their story. One of the most devastating aspects of sexualized violence is the loss of power and control that victims experience. For this reason, it is extremely important to let them know that they are in control of what happens to them following the assault. You can help by empowering the survivor to make decisions about their own healing process. Provide options, such as:
- Do you want to report to the police, or not?
- Do you want medical care, or not?
- Do you want to access counselling, or not?
There are many things that you can do to help a person feel more comfortable after they have been sexually assaulted. The best way to find out what would be most helpful, is to ask that person what they need right now. Check in around their physical needs. Do they need a blanket to stay warm, or a pillow to hug? Be sure to give them options at every opportunity, such as where they would like to sit while you talk. You can also ask if there is anyone else that they would like to notify about what has happened, and whether you can be of any assistance contacting that person. Let them know that they do not have to talk about any of the details of what happened unless it is important to them. They can take their time to make sense of what happened. Respect the person’s choices, even if the decisions do not feel right to you, or are different than the ones you would make. Remember, the most important thing that you can do right now is to show them that they are in control. If someone tells you that they have experienced sexualized violence, start by believing. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, no matter what.
For Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2019, Family Service of Eastern Nova Scotia featured a series of talks and videos on supporting survivors, including one by Avalon’s Dee Dooley. Listen below: