What To Say When Someone Tells You They Have Been Sexually Assaulted
...and what to not do.
It can be difficult to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve survived sexual violence. You want to be supportive, but it can be hard to find the right words to express this sentiment.
Here is a guide to what you should say:
1) Thank you for telling me
2) I’m so sorry that happened to you
3) I believe you
4) You didn’t deserve it
5) You’re not alone
6) How can I support you? – this is one of the most important things you can ask as it allows them to set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
All of these sentences show the survivor know you support them, you believe them, you don’t judge them, and that they’re safe. The way that the first people a survivor tells react can make a massive difference in their mental health and healing research has shown. Breaking the silence and shame around sexual assault is an important part of the healing process.
It’s natural that when someone close to you shares what happened to them, you may feel things such as anger, fear, sadness and horror. You may judge them, or wish you could reverse what happened but this conversation is not about you.
This is about the survivor, your only job should be to listen. It is okay to cry with them or affirm their anger but it should remain about them and not your feelings. You should process your own emotions later.
While you will want to try and make things better such as telling them what will happen next e.g “first you need to file a report” or “we will find you a good therapist.”
But you should refrain from doing this as they have had their power taken away from them once, so they should be in charge of their experience.
If you have experienced sexual violence you can tell your friend that you too have survived. If they want to know more then you should share it, but keep the focus on them, but please do get support for any feeling that may come up for you.
Making sure they feel heard and seen is the best thing you can do for them.