|How To Help Survivors|
Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD
Be Supportive & Accepting
It can be very difficult for individuals who are close with someone who has been sexually violated. You may be a parent, a partner, a friend, a sibling, or other family member and it is very likely that you will have your own feelings about what happened to your loved one. You may feel a range of emotions, like sadness, anger, frustration, fear, or anxiety. However you are feeling is normal, just like however the survivor feels is normal. This is key.
Sexual violations typically are very difficult to deal with emotionally. As time passes, significant others may begin to think, ‘why can't they get over it?' It is important to recognize that working through these feelings takes time. Survivors need their family and friends to respect their coping mechanisms, whatever they may be, and to provide a supportive environment. This is essential to the healing process.
Significant others need to remember that the sexual violation was not the survivor's fault. It was not something they wanted, caused, or could have prevented. Knowing and believing this helps support the survivor.
Help Locate Information & Identify Options
Survivors of sexual violations have had someone else make choices about them and their bodies. You, as a support person, can give some power back to them. How? By getting information and identifying options they have. For example, immediately after an assault you can ask what they would like to do rather than insisting that they go to the hospital or doctor, or to the police or to counseling.
You might say something like this to the survivor:
Call our 24 hour Rape Crisis Hotline for assistance if you don't know what to say or do.
Remember it is a survivor's choice to decide whether or not to seek a medical or forensic exam, or call the police or go to counseling (if they are minors, you can call the hotline to ask for specifics about reporting according to age). Your job is to support them and to accompany them if they wish.
Recognize Trauma Symptoms
Significant others can help loved ones by recognizing that survivors may experience a number of trauma symptoms and understanding that those symptoms are normal for what they have been through.
Counseling can be a good way for survivors to get support and intervention for around those symptoms and experience. However, the survivor of course needs to make the choice about coming to counseling and if they are not ready, that's okay. If you as a support person would like to come for counseling, you can request an intake appointment.
Respect the Survivor
Whoever you are in the survivor's life, the survivor is the same person who you have always known. Try not to treat them differently. They are not less capable or more vulnerable. Does this mean that the sexual violation won't affect them or that they won't change from the experience? Probably not, but supporting them in that process and respecting them where they are is much healthier than treating them differently now that they have had this experience.