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Education and Prevention

How to Support a Survivor in Your Life

Person clasped another's hand

Seeing someone you care about in pain is difficult. Here are some ways you can help the survivors in your life:

  • Listen: Listening is one of the most important ways you can support a survivor of sexual assault. Some survivors will want to talk right away, and others will need some time. Let the person you care about know that you will be ready when they are. Let them talk while you simply listen.
  • Believe: Survivors of sexual assault often worry that they will not be believed. If someone wants to talk with you about something as personal as sexual assault, it means they trust you. Try not to ask questions that sound like you don't believe the story. In fact, tell the survivor directly, "I believe you." When a survivor feels believed, you have helped the healing.
  • Let them make choices: Sexual assault takes away a person's power and feeling of control. Respecting a survivor's choices helps them get those feelings back. Making decisions is an important way to feel powerful. You can help get information and understand options, but a survivor needs to make their own decisions. You can empower the person you care about by supporting their decisions, even if you may not agree with them.
  • Respect their privacy: Ask before you share any of the information entrusted to you with anyone else. By asking first, you give control to the survivor, which is one of the most important parts of their healing process. 
  • Get informed: Learn more about survivors' common reactions to an assault. If you know more, you can better understand and support the survivor.
  • Take care of yourself: You are an important person in the survivor's life if they chose to tell you about their assault. Take care of yourself and your feelings so that you will be better able to help them. All BARCC services are free, confidential, and available to you.

For parents of survivors

Any crisis in a family brings with it a process of grief and healing. If you have experienced a family crisis before—a divorce or the unexpected illness of child, for example—you probably remember feeling shock and disbelief at first. Then perhaps you just wanted to get back to normal, and finally, the family adjusted to the changes. In some ways, a sexual assault is like any other crisis, and in some ways it is different.

If your child has been sexually assaulted, you may be concerned about the following:

  • How to talk with your child about what has happened: Talking about sex is never easy, and talking with your child about sex, no matter what their age, is complex. You may also find yourself having complicated or judgmental feelings about your child’s actions. Getting some guidance about talking to your child can help improve your confidence. BARCC counselors can provide that guidance.
  • Keeping your child safe: Most parents believe it is their job to keep their child safe. When a child is hurt, most of us feel that responsibility keenly. Parents have a range of reactions. One parent might want to immediately pull their child out of school where another parent feels unsure of the accusation of abuse.
  • Your feelings about the perpetrator: The younger your child is, the more likely it is that you know the offender. It could be a trusted person such as a teacher or coach, a beloved family member, another child or teen, or someone your child is dating. The more emotionally attached you are to the offender, the more difficult it can be to make decisions that are in the best interest of you and your child. Finding someone to support you and your feelings can help.
  • Whether your child is making a false accusation: As with people of any age, it is rare for a child to make up an accusation. Children do sometimes tell different stories to different people. This can be because they are confused or scared about how the person they are telling will react. It is important for you to be supportive of your child as they disclose their experience.
  • Making everything better: Naturally, parents don’t like to see their child in pain and often want them to feel better quickly. But recovery from sexual assault takes time. Parents can help by learning about the healing process and offering their child unconditional support. Parents also can help by recognizing their own pain and seeking help for themselves.
  • How this crisis effects your other children: When a child is sexually assaulted or abused, it affects the whole family. You may find yourself feeling overprotective of other children. You may struggle with how to explain your child’s emotional distress—and yours—to your other children. You may feel overwhelmed with caring for your child in crisis and neglectful of other children.
  • Your own history of trauma: If you have a history of sexual assault, this may trigger your own history and create a multiplicity of stress. Remember that you are as deserving of help for all of your own reactions as your child is for theirs.

The best way to care for your child is to also care for yourself. You will need your own sources of support—friends, family members, or community services—to help you with your child’s and your family’s recovery from sexual assault.

BARCC’s counselorslegal advocates, and case managers can help you. We can also refer you to services in your community.

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