Supporting a Victim of Assault

How can I support my friend?

Sexual assault can be really traumatic, your friend might be feeling a whole range of emotions like anger, sadness or confusion. The most important thing you can do if someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted is believe them. Listen to what they tell you and how they are feeling, and try to help them connect with support services that know about sexual assault.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make them feel safe.
  • Listen patiently to your friend- it might be extremely difficult for them to talk about their experience. Don’t interrupt and try to stay calm even if their story upsets you.
  • Believe your friend- let them know that you trust them.
  • Let them know that it is not their fault- no one has the right to force another person into sex.
  • Try to get your friend to find support-1800 RESPECT is a helpline for people who have experienced sexual assault or family violence.
  • Respect their decisions- let them make their own decisions and support them, whatever they may be.
  • Remember that if your friend does seek help from a sexual assault crisis service, or helpline, they will NOT report it to police unless they request it. This goes for emergency departments and doctors too.

If you’re not sure what to do or say you can call Kids Helpline or 1800 RESPECT or speak to your school counsellor, they will give you advice on how you can support your friend. You can find a list of sexual assault support services in each state here. You can read more here and here about how to help your friend.

What not to do.

Sexual assault is a massive breach of trust, so it’s really important to let your friend know that they can trust you. Questions that blame or question your friend’s actions may make them feel blamed for the assault. Try to avoid questions like:

  • Why did you go home with him?
  • Why did you drink so much?
  • Why were you walking home alone?
  • What caused this?
  • What happened right before the assault?
  • Why didn’t you get out of there?

These kinds of questions might make your friend feel worse, and stop them from seeking help from a counsellor. The best thing you can do is listen to your friend and just be there for them. Telling someone else will be one of the hardest time’s in a survivor of sexual assault’s recovery, it doesn’t matter how long ago the assault occurred, whether it was last night or five years ago. So let your friend tell you in their own time and on their own terms.

Look after yourself too.

Supporting your friend might affect you emotionally too, so it’s important to remember to look after yourself. Make some time to relax, or do something that will help reduce your stress levels. Talk to someone you trust about what you are feeling, like a school counsellor. You can call Kids Helpline or 1800 RESPECT, and they also have online counselling services if you think that would be easier.