Sexual assault can happen to anyone under a range of circumstances with the most common assaults perpetrated by people known to the survivor.
What to do when a friend discloses sexual assault to you
In order to ensure the swift progress of recovery you need to follow a few guidelines:
1. Believe them
It is important that if a friend comes to you for support to believe the story they are telling you. It is not up to you to make a judgement on whether it happened or not, you just need to tell them you believe them. Most people who come forward are telling the truth. Especially if you know the accused perpetrator you need to show you believe them, don’t get into “What if’s” about sides or blame or friendship groups.
2.Don’t blame them
As the story unfolds you may start to think of ways they could have prevented the assault, it is natural to run through different scenarios in your mind but you need to keep them to yourself. It is easy to see things with the benefits of hindsight. You can help re-frame blaming statements, they might say they should have punched him/her to get away, just say
“It is hard to fight back when someone is making you feel scared”.
If the assault happened when they were alone in a room they may feel like it is their fault, you could say something like
“It sounds like you wanted to trust that person but it didn’t end up working like that”.
3. Support them
Listen to the survivor non-judgmentally. If you forget everything else just remember that showing empathy and allowing them to talk about what happened is really important. Tell them that you are sorry this happened to them. Paraphrase what they have said. You could start with
“It sounds like you must have felt really scared…”.
Reflecting what is said is a good way to ensure they feel understood. You could ensure the reflections are tentative (sound unsure) rather than making the statement final. When the reflection is tentative it hands the conversation back to the survivor so they will continue to open up. Finally the survivor needs to have the choice as to who they can tell and how to deal with it. It is important that you don’t push the survivor to do what you think is best, instead support them to make decisions for themselves. Remember it is their choice to go to the hospital or disclose any information to health professionals such as a doctor however sexual assault should be referred to the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre (62472525) with the permission of the survivor.
Seek support and information
Although the incident is over there may be ongoing problems as a result which can affect the person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
An excellent resource here: http://www.reconnectonline.com.au/assets/pdf/others/sexualassault.pdf
Sources: Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition,
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Medic Wiki, NSW Rape Crisis