How to Properly Comfort a Victim of Sexual Assault

Or better yet: How not to be a shit-friend

(art belongs to: tinhanh-huynh)

A loved one has confided in you that they were assaulted or raped, and you’re at a loss at what to say. Maybe this is the first time someone has confided in you about something like this, or maybe this isn’t the first time, but you want to do a better job of taking care of them. Regardless of gender or age, this is a guide that addresses victims of sexual assault (However, this can also be extended to other forms of abuse, whether emotional or physical):

  1. Believe the victim

It’s a lot to take in to be told that someone had taken advantage of your friend, but push your feelings of doubt and discomfort aside for them. Your moment of discomfort is uncomparable to the trauma they’ve experienced. It took a lot of courage for them to tell you what happened. The least you could do is listen and believe them right from the start. Stay by their side, this isn’t the time for doubts or have them prove to you that they’re telling the truth.

2. Tell them it’s not their fault and make it clear

Whether you’re the first or tenth person they told, this is always a comforting thing to hear, and most importantly, it’s necessary that this emphasized. Their statements might be full of “I should have said ‘no’”, “I should have fought back”, or “I should have watched what I was drinking”. Whatever the case may be, always tell them that no matter what, it’s not their fault. Their abuser or rapist is always at fault as they should have never assaulted or abused the victim in the first place. Remind them that they are not “broken” or “dirty” no matter what.

3. Ask them what they need

Comfort is different for everyone and no victim is the same. If you know them well, then maybe you know what they already need, but it doesn’t hurt to ask regardless. It’s best to ask things like “Do you need anything? What do you need me to do?” Some might want to be held and not be left alone, some might need alone time and not want any physical contact of any kind. Respect their boundaries and don’t take it personal if they need time to cope alone.

4. Don’t push them to tell you what happened

Like on instinct, you may want to know what happened and how and why. You want to know who hurt the person you care about. But this is up to the victim to delve into how much they want to talk about their traumatic experience to you. Confiding in someone is hard enough as it is, but it’s even harder having to relive a scarring experience. Let them know that you’re there for them and they can talk to you when they’re ready. Don’t act entitled or push them to talk about something they’re not ready to deal with yet.

5. Don’t push them to report or press charges unless they absolutely want to

If you haven’t noticed, our justice system is shit. Police will slut-shame and ask invasive questions, causing the victim to doubt themselves, believe it’s their fault, and be forced to relive their trauma through the interrogation. Often times, rape victims are not believed and their attempts at reporting are dismissed. This leaves a traumatic feeling of stress, regret, and shame. Some victims will push through and some may not experience this, reporting assault varies. However, it’s up to the victim to decide whether or not they want to report them. Only the victim knows what they need.

6. Don’t expect them to leave their abuser right away

Often times, the abuser or rapist is someone the victim knows and is close to. Contrary to popular belief, most assaults happen from someone in close proximity. Often times from a partner, friend, or family member. The victim may try to justify the abuser’s actions and instead blame themselves or be in denial of their abuse. It’s hard to break free from someone who you never thought would take advantage of you. It’s important to remind them that even though their abuser may mean a lot to them, that the abuser does not care about them or their feelings. Someone that loves them wouldn’t hurt them in such a way.

Other tips and things I’ve heard:

This is both from personal experience and from what I have heard from other people’s experiences. Being considerate and supportive should come easy, but for most it seems like a struggle.

Don’t expose rape victims to media that makes fun of rape or shows graphic rape scenes — Does it really need to be said? Unfortunately, in my experience, yes, yes it does. Again, every victim copes differently, and maybe some won’t be affected it and maybe some will be sensitive to media that makes fun of their traumatic experiences or fetishizes their pain.

Are you friends with said-rapist/abuser? Drop them. Why be friends with one anyways? Why would you want to associate with trash or try to keep the peace in your friend group? The peace was already broken once someone was violated and abused. If the abuser is not someone you’re financially dependent on, and you can break free, then drop them.

Onward to things you should really avoid saying. Just fucking don’t:

“(insert rape joke here about their experience)” — As stated earlier, this should not have to be said, but here we are anyways. Since I have to state the consequences apparently.. By making jokes like this, it only further hurts the victim and makes them regret ever confiding in you an experience that had traumatized them. Their trauma is not your conversation fodder.

“If it was me, I would have stopped him” — Push your ego aside for once, who are you trying to help? That’s nice and all, but guess what? The assault already happened and our pain and traumatic experiences aren’t for you to build yourself up and make yourself look better if you were in our place. We didn’t confide in you to give you an ego boost.

“It could have been worse” — You could say that about any terrible situation. Terrible things happen all the time, but saying this is almost an attempt to invalidate our trauma and make light of the situation. This is counter-intuitive as it makes us feel guilty or embarrassed for even bringing it up.

“You should forgive your rapist. Pretend it never happened.” — The silence of victims is, of course, much more convenient for everyone, it’s much more comfortable to pretend nothing bad happened while the victim is left to suffer in their silence. This willful ignorance is a slap in the face for the victim, but it’s a win for their rapist.

The black and white truth of the matter is that comments like these are the fuel of the “justice” system that allowed a rapist to be in prison for for only 3 months (see: Brock Turner). These everyday comments are what makes a rapist think he can get away with assault and feel justified in it. The real horror is not when rape happens, but it’s when the whole world that seemed like a safety net is suddenly slipped out from underneath the rape victim. When people they called “friends”, their family members, their school, and law enforcement shame them into keeping silent and make them feel guilty for not complying, our slut-shaming society that turns the other cheek is very much at fault.

Often times, rape victims have to cut off friends and family, who don’t support them and have only been proven toxic to them and their healing. Whether it’s because their loved ones refused to cut ties with the victim’s abuser or because they shamed the victim and had only stagnated their healing process, worsening their depression and loneliness. You don’t need to be a hero and hunt down their rapist, but rather, do all you can to be there for them and help them when they need it.

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