It can be hard to know how best to support someone who has experienced rape or sexual abuse. It can be very difficult for the survivor to talk about it, so if someone tells you that they have been raped or sexually abused, you should realize that they are telling you because they feel that they can trust you. Safe, non-abusive relationships are survivor’s most precious resources and you are very important to them.

Often people are nervous and afraid to say the 'wrong thing’ because they do not know enough about sexual violence. You do not need to be an expert to help. If you are prepared to listen, the survivor may be able to guide you as to the help they need.Although there is no particular ‘right’ way to do it, you may find the following information helpful if a friend, partner or relative chooses to disclose their abuse to you:

  • It is very important that you believe and accept what the survivor tells you. They need to feel that you are someone who can hear the truth of what their experience was and that you are listening to them.
  • DO NOT blame the survivor for what has happened to them. Remember that they did the right thing, at the right time to protect themselves, in whatever situation they were in. Survivors are often afraid of people not believing them, reacting negatively to what they say or rejecting them for what has happened to them.
  • Believe what they say, do not ask ‘Why didn’t you tell someone?’ or ‘Why didn’t you scream?’

If you do not understand why a survivor is reacting in a particular way or why they behaved as they did, try to keep calm and focused on the survivor. Try not to ask too many questions.

 

Practical help:

  • When someone is shocked and grieving over what has happened to them, or over what they have just remembered, they may not be able to look after themselves at times. The anger, loss and pain can feel overwhelming. If you are supporting someone at such a time, stay calm and kind. A hand to hold is all you need to provide. Survivors have had their bodies and minds violated and may have difficulties with sleeping, eating, bathing and relaxing. Helping to gradually normalise these activities as part of daily life can add a lot to survivors’ security and self-respect. 
  • It is very important that you let the survivor make their own choices about what they do next and this means letting them decide whether they want to go for counselling or report to the Gardaí. You can certainly find out information for them but let them make up their own mind about what they are going to do. Sexual Abuse and Rape may leave a person feeling powerless and helpless, survivors need to feel that they can be in charge of their lives again.
  • Let your loved one know that professional help is available through Rape Crisis Midwest by calling their freephone numbers. Encourage them to contact someone, but realise that only your loved one can make the decision to get help. If your loved one is willing to seek medical attention or report the assault, offer to accompany him or her wherever s/he needs to go (hospital, garda station, campus security, etc.)
  • You may find that you are feeling all sorts of emotions about what the survivor has told you. You may feel helpless, confused, shocked; you might find it hard to believe that what you are being told is true. If this is the case, you may need to talk to somebody about what you are feeling. Do not expect the survivor to be able to listen to you. They have enough to cope with.
  • Another very important thing for you to do is to make sure that you are looking after yourself. Recovering from abuse can take a long time and your loved one may not get over this quickly. Steady, consistent, long-term support may be required so you will need to pace yourself.
  • If the survivor is your partner you need to be aware that sexual violence can affect intimacy, be that very close friendships or sexual relationships. Memories of terror and pain may pour out in response to the gentlest touch. If your partner has been raped or sexually abused they may not want to sleep with you or even have you physically close. Respect their wishes around physical intimacy.
  • It is very important that survivors feel that they can take charge again in this way and for partners to respect the survivors’ needs, whether it is just to be held, or not be touched at all for a long time. One of the most important things in supporting a survivor is to be available to listen and talk.
  • For some survivors, childhood abuse could have blurred the line between sex and affection and this can affect friendships as much as sexual relationships. Discuss this with your partner/friend and negotiate what kinds of touch are welcome.
  • If you are dealing with an issue involving your child, create a safe place by talking directly to them.
  • If you are the non-abusing parent in a case of incest, it is important to support your child and help them through this situation without blaming them. This is also true if you are not a parent but still an observer of incest.
  • If your loved one is considering suicide, follow-up with them on a regular basis.

It is also important to note that having a friend or family member who is raped or assaulted can be a very upsetting experience.

Contact a Rape Crisis Centre, or find a counselor for support for yourself. Freephone Rape Crisis Midwest on 1800 311511

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