When someone you care about has been sexually assaulted it can be difficult to know what to do or say. You may experience a variety of feelings – fear, anger, sadness, and disbelief. The most important thing that you can do from the beginning is to believe them. Your reaction to their disclosure and the support you provide is important to their healing process. Try your best to remain calm, listen without judgment, and support the survivor's decisions.

Remember, nothing a person does, nor the decisions they make, causes them to be sexually assaulted. Your loved one needs your love and support no matter the circumstances of the assault.

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Sexual assault can affect a survivor’s life in the following ways:

  • Physical & mental health
  • Body image
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexuality & relationships
  • Eating habits & relationship with food
  • Sleeping habits
  • Functioning in social situations

What to be careful of:

  • Giving advice or taking control of the situation. Being sexually assaulted is the ultimate loss of control over one’s environment, allowing your loved one to have control over their own decisions..
  • Avoid sharing what you would have done in the same situation..
  • Attempting to play multiple roles – advocate, therapist, nurse, investigator – instead simply be their friend and/or trusted family support.
  • Ignoring your own needs, emotions, and wellness. Your loved one is not in a position to take care of you or manage your reaction. If you are having a hard time coping with your own feelings about what happened to your loved one, consider seeking out support about how to manage your own feelings.
  • Treating the survivor like they’re broken or damaged. 

How friends and family can help a survivor:

  • Let them know you believe them and take their disclosure seriously. Listen to what they have to say about what happened, but in their own time.
  • Be supportive – ask what you can do to help. Do not assume you know what is best, do not make decisions for them.
  • Validate their emotions, even if you do not understand them. All emotions are fair responses to sexual assault.
  • Know where to find information on your local Rape Crisis and Recovery Center.
  • If they are interested in information on a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE), you can help them find a local SAFE program. During a SAFE, a specialized nurse can treat injuries, collect evidence, and address concerns about pregnancy and sexual transmitted infections (STIs). These can be received up to 15 days after a sexual assault.
  • Allow them to decide the level of your involvement.
  • Offer them a safe place to stay, or stay with them in their home.
  • Remind them it was not their fault.
  • Be patient – and encourage them to be patient with themselves.
  • Offer to accompany them to various appointments (doctors, police, lawyers, courts).
  • Encourage them to engage in self-care activities as a way to cope.
  • Remind them that the assault is something that happened to them; it doesn’t define them as a person.

For more information, visit:

After Sexual Assault Resources