Sexual assault can traumatize not only the victim/survivor, but also family and friends. One of the greatest hardships is not knowing how to help. Each person’s reaction to being assaulted is individual and unique.
In general, think about the times in your life when you’ve felt vulnerable or faced a crisis – the death of someone you loved, the end of a marriage, a life-threatening illness, or loss of a job. Remember what helped you the most. Chances are it wasn't any one conversation or any one action, but rather the knowledge that friends believed you, empathized with your pain, were on your side, and were committed to seeing you through hard times. It is important that you provide the same support.
* Portions of this content have been adapted by permission from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
A sexual assault victim/survivor has experienced a devastating loss of control over their life. They need to be in control of their decisions and actions to regain control. Regardless of your intentions, if they feel that you are being pushy or coercive, you won't be helping.
For instance, if they want to talk, listen. If you are uncomfortable listening, help them find someone who can listen. If they don't want to talk, be understanding of that – they need to set their own pace. Ask them, "How can I help you?" Consider talking to a counselor or finding a local sexual assault center. See the resources listed on the back page.
There is no way to change the fact that a sexual assault occurred. You can't change history but you can be a loving and non-judgmental friend, partner or family member. Remember that your support can assist in recovery.
Sexual assault is ugly and scary. You may be uncomfortable thinking about it. You may find that you experience anger at the victim or the attacker. You may feel fearful yourself. You may feel guilt at not having been able to prevent the attack. There are a number of other feelings you may have that may affect your relationship. You can't deny your own feelings, but don't let them interfere with the concern and aid you're trying to give. A skilled counselor/sexual assault advocate can help you sort through these emotions. They can respond directly to your questions and concerns. Most sexual assault crisis centers provide free and confidential counseling to the victim/survivors family and friends.
Sexual assault is a crime and the rapist is a criminal. Don't blame the victim. Victims don't cause their attackers' behavior. The only commonality in all sexual assaults is that there is someone willing to commit a rape or sexual assault.
Don't second-guess your friend or family member's behavior.
It doesn't help to compare experiences with others who have been assaulted. At some point, they might want to learn more about the reactions of other victims/survivors, but any such discussion should be at their request. Don't compare what did happen with what could have happened. (e.g. Well, at least you're alive.) During the attack the overwhelming emotion is often fear of being killed. It's up to them to decide whether or not they feel "lucky" to have survived.
People often tell a victim of a crisis, "Don't worry / Don't cry / Don't think about it." This is impossible.
Telling them to deny or downplay the experience they have been through might seem like you are suggesting that you aren't concerned. Neither the crime nor its aftermath will go away by ignoring them.
Relationship violence not only affects those who are directly abused, but also the family, friends, coworkers, witnesses and the community at large.
If you want to help your friend or relative in concrete ways, be creative, but recognize your limitations. Do not offer more than you can give. Any assistance, however small it seems to you, will demonstrate your concern and care. Your care and help can aid your friend or relative’s recovery and healthy adjustment.
Also, sometimes they might need to just do normal activities they enjoyed before the attack to take a break from thinking about it all the time.
Sometimes the routines of life will feel threatening when dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Traveling home from work or school or even grocery shopping may be frightening. If your friend or relative expresses concern about safety in these situations, offer to drive them home or accompany them on public transportation.
For some time after the attack, routine chores and responsibilities may seem burdensome to your friend or relative. They may be grateful for assistance with errands, childcare, laundry, etc. If you are able, offer to help with these tasks. If you offer to help, it is critical that you follow through on your promise.
Regardless of where the assault took place, the victim/survivor will probably be concerned about the safety of their house or apartment. You can help by installing locks on the doors and windows or other security measures they want to take. They may decide to move to a new apartment or house. You can help them search for one or assist with the moving chores. In Minnesota, you can talk to an advocate to get help with terminating a lease if the victim/survivor does not feel safe in their home they rent.
Depending upon the circumstances of the attack, your friend or relative may appreciate having a place to stay outside their home or may appreciate having a companion stay with them in their home. For people who have experienced a sexual assault, fear can be a primary emotion. It can surface any time – especially when they are feeling vulnerable. It may intensify when they are alone.
Consider making your home available as a temporary refuge. Or offer to spend a few days with them at their home. Sheltering your friend or relative and offering assistance is a serious responsibility. Their pain will be closer to you as you take on the role of comforter. Make sure you’re prepared to make a commitment of this nature before offering. Knowing and respecting your own limitations is important. If your responsibilities prevent you from making this kind of commitment, you might offer to arrange a schedule of regular phone calls.
Make sure that your friend knows that there are community and campus resources they can contact for support. The Central Minnesota Sexual Assault center in the community and the SCSU Gender Violence Prevention program on campus provide free and confidential support and advocacy services. Offer to help get information or walk over with them for an appointment.
If they choose to seek counseling or therapy from a psychologist or a psychiatrist, they should be aware that not all of them have had training in the special needs of sexual assault victims. It is okay to ask potential therapists if their areas of expertise include sexual assault or issues for trauma survivors.
If the sexual assault has been reported (which is the victim/survivor’s decision) and the county attorney decides to prosecute, there are going to be numerous contacts with an Assistant County Attorney as well as one or more hearing and trial dates. At any point throughout the court processes, consider offering to accompany them or let them know they can ask an advocate to accompany them and explain the process.
Sexual assault can affect feelings about sexuality. Some victim/survivors find that sex stirs up frightening feelings which they associate with the sexual assault and are more comfortable if intimacy is limited to holding and hugging. Others experience no difficulty in this regard by distinguishing quickly between sexual assault and consensual sexuality, and might welcome their partner’s intimacy. However, a partner must recognize the possibility of temporary change in an intimate relationship.
If your partner wants to refrain from sexual activity, it is essential that you honor these wishes. Otherwise they may feel rushed or frightened by your desire to be sexual. Try to talk openly about this issue even if you have never talked openly about this subject before. It is vital to communicate now. If they haven’t brought up the subject, gently ask about it. As in other aspects of their recovery, your partner’s needs should be of primary importance and should guide your actions. Let them know you are willing to follow their lead.
The opportunity to talk about this with someone outside the relationship has been helpful to others who have been intimately involved with a sexual assault survivor. Sexual assault advocates typically are able to provide a number of resources that can address your concerns. The empathy you demonstrate during this critical period can aid in your partner’s recovery. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your relationship can emerge stronger for the experience.
Remember that even though some things change between you and your partner for a while, most people recover from the trauma of sexual assault and re-establish loving and full lives.
All employees at St. Cloud State, including student workers, have an obligation to report instances of discrimination, including harassment, rape, assault and coercion based on sex or gender, to their own supervisor or the St. Cloud State Vice President for Equity and Inclusion & Title IX Coordinator or designee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any employee who fails to report is subject to disciplinary action as outlined in the Student Code of Community Standards or the employee's bargaining agreement.
If you suspect a student is going to tell you about sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking, find a private place to talk. Let the student know that federal guidelines require you to report an incident and if they are not ready to have it reported asked them not to tell you anything else. You can refer them to Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Services or the Women’s Center. These are the only places on campus that can guarantee their privacy.
If they do provide enough information for you to determine they have experienced a Title IX issue, you will report it to the Title IX Coordinator on campus which will result in an email from the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion & Title IX Coordinator, Chocoletta A. Simpson, letting them know they can come in and talk to her and she can explain the campus reporting process and provide referrals.
Assess immediate safety concerns by asking, “Will you be safe when you leave here or when you go home?” If they are unsure or answer no, provide information on help resources.
Encourage an individual to utilize campus resources, and to consider filing a report with University officials and/or local authorities.
Provide information on other possible remedies an advocate can assist them with: