I am a loved one to a survivor.
Sexual violence affects more than just the victim. It affects the loved ones of the survivor as well. Learning that someone you care about has been victimized takes an emotional toll. You may be struggling with your own emotions about the assault. We’re here to help. Call us for more information or to schedule an appointment.
You might be feeling…
Guilt. It’s normal for secondary survivors to feel pangs of guilt as if they could have prevented the assault in some way.
Shame. You may be concerned about reactions from family members or the community about the sexual assault. This often comes from common myths about sexual assault. Remember, sexual assault is about the perpetrator’s desire for control. It is not about sex and it does not reflect anything about the character of the victim.
Helplessness or powerlessness. Similar to how your loved one may be feeling, you might feel like you’ve lost control over yourself and your surroundings. In addition to this helplessness, you may feel frustrated, angry, or depressed about your ability to “fix” things and help your loved one.
How you can help…
Let them tell their story in their own time and in their own way.
Allow them to be silent.
Be present, don’t think about what you are going to say next.
Avoid questions that could be interpreted as judgmental or as an attack.
You may be the first person the victim has ever told. As loved ones, it is our responsibility to support the victim and help them find the help they need. It is not our role to question the victim.
Withhold judgment. If a loved one tells you about an assault, they are looking for help. Questioning their whereabouts, integrity, etc. may cause them to shut down and prevent them from getting help.
Let them know they are not responsible for the assault.
Believe that the assault has seriously affected them.
Respect the victim’s feeling about the perpetrator. If the victim feels that she/he needs to protect the perpetrator, they may need you to refrain from saying anything negative about the individual. Attacking the perpetrator may cause the victim to close off and may damage your relationship with the victim. While it may be difficult, in these cases it is better to focus on the abusive behavior rather than the person.
Accept their feelings, whatever they are.
Let them know that it’s not their fault.
Encourage them to trust feelings of discomfort.
Ask if they have gotten help.
Don’t make decisions for them! Their decisions are right for them at that time.
Get help for yourself. You deserve to be supported through the healing process, as well. SAVA’s advocates are here for you.
Ask victim-blaming questions. (How much did you drink? What were you wearing?)
Press for details; survivors will share when ready.
Criticize response to assault; their response felt right at the time.
Doubt the survivor’s perception.
Contact, confront, or threaten the perpetrator.
Misdirect anger about the assault toward the victim.
Try to handle situation alone.