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Friends and Families of Rape Survivors

If you are supporting someone who is a rape survivor you are a survivor also. Friends and family are often referred to as secondary survivors.

You may experience many of the same feelings as the actual survivor. You may be depressed, angry, frightened or confused. All of these reactions are normal.

Supporting someone who has been assaulted is difficult and it is important that you take care of yourself as well. I encourage you to call your local rape crisis center or hotline if you have questions or concerns or if you need to talk about your feelings. You may be wondering what you can do to help this person you care about who has been raped.

The first and the most important thing you can do is to believe what this person is telling you.

The survivor may be terrified that people will not believe them when they say they have been raped. It is important that you assure them first that you believe everything they have told you and secondly that the rape was not their fault.

Do not ask questions that might imply that the rape was their fault. Questions like "why did you drink so much?" or "what were you wearing?" or "why were you in his dorm room?" indicate the survivor is to blame for the attack and that is never the case.

It is NOT helpful to react angrily toward either the survivor or the rapist. While you may be furious and want to seek revenge against the rapist this will only cause the survivor more grief.

Now not only will she/he be coping with being raped they will also have to worry about your safety when you confront the rapist. If the survivor wants to press charges contact the police (or the hospital will contact them for you) if the survivor chooses to go.

It is important to give the survivor control over what happens now that they have been raped. They have had a great deal of control taken away from them violently and you can help them get it back by letting them make their own decisions such as who they want to tell about the assault and when.

I suggest strongly encouraging them to get medical attention as soon as possible but ultimately they should not be forced. Do not force any decisions on the survivor. It is important that they feel they are in control of what is happening to them now.

Someone who has been raped may be very sensitive to touch. It is a good thing to ask before touching someone who has recently been raped. Saying "can I give you a hug?" or "would you like to hold my hand?" might make the survivor much more comfortable then just having you reach over and hug them. If they prefer not to be touched right now, respect their wishes.

People ask me what I say when someone tells me they have been raped. I often say some or all of the following.

  • I am so sorry that that happened to you.
  • I believe you.
  • You didn't deserve to have that happen.
  • It wasn't your fault.
  • How can I support you?
  • What do you need from me right now?

Jacqueline P. Sweeney-Mance, MA

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