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Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

How to support survivors of sexual assault

1 in every 6 American women is a survivor of attempted rape or completed rape, and as is 1 in every 33 American men. Every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, so it is likely that at some point in your life you will find yourself in a position in which you or someone close to you has experienced an instance of sexual assault and it’s helpful to know some steps following such an experience.

What to do when a friend comes to you about sexual assault

Ask them what they expect from you

Oftentimes, our first instinct when a friend comes to us with any kind of issue is to give them advice. Not just in this scenario, but especially in this one, make sure you ask them if they want advice or just for you to listen. They may want advice from you, but they may also just want someone to listen to them.


Respect their personal space as they recount their story

Even if physical affection is something that comes naturally to you and your friend, be weary in this situation. Ask them first if they would like a hug or any kind of comforting physical contact as they recount their story to you

Demonstrate ongoing support and awareness

Recommendations of things to say

Why don’t survivors of sexual assault come forward sooner?

Survivors of sexual assault may often come forward about their experiences long after the assault actually happened. Shame and fear often play a role in silencing survivors for longer periods of time. Additionally, the first person that the survivor opens up to often sets the tone for the future in regards to them opening up. If the first person they tell is dismissive and questions their credibility, survivors often are even more tempted to keep the experience to themselves. Some other common reasons that cause survivors to keep their experiences include:

Shame & self blame

as human beings, we often want to believe we have control over what happens to us, so when there is an instance in which we feel very little control such as sexual assault, in hindsight survivors often are tempted to place the blame on themselves, replaying the moment and wishing they had been more stern, more aggressive, less timid. but this is not the survivor’s fault.

Fear of consequences

those who are the perpetrators of sexual assault often hold some sort of power over the victim, and this causes fear over what that person would do if they were to come forward

Fear of not being believed


the 5 D’s: disbelief, denial, dissociated, drunk, or drugged


Finally, there are many other reasons why survivors don’t come out about their experiences ever or even right away, talk to the survivor themselves for more information on what they personally may be dealing with and how you can help. The length between the sexual assault and the survivors story should never discredit the survivor.

How to support a survivor

If somone confides in you about their sexual assault, it can be confusing about how to respond. You might worry that you won’t say the right thing, giving the right advice and how to support them best. This is why we created a step-by-step guide to give you the right tools to support a survivor.

By taking care of your own mental health and establishing your own boundaries, you will actually be a better support system for a survivor. Your job isn’t to be a therapist, it’s to be a support system and a friend.

Important things to remember when supporting a survivor

While the 10 step plan can help you maneauver a conversation with someone who confides in you about their assault, there are some other important facts to remember about sexual assault and recovery.