After a rape, survivors may be openly upset, even hysterical, or they may be numb and seemingly calm. The victim needs to:
Rape is a traumatic violation of a person. Especially in the beginning, it is often difficult for victims to be alone.
With date rape especially, victims need to be believed that was occurred was, in fact, rape. Know it was not their fault. Most rape victims feel guilty and feel that the attack was somehow their fault.
Take control of their life.
When a person is raped, they may feel completely out of control of what is happening to them. A significant step on the road to recovery is to regain a sense of control in little as well as big things.
Things you can do to help
Listen; do not judge. It is not your place to play prosecutor and make the victim prove their story. Accept their version of the facts and be supportive. You may have to deal with your feeling separately if you feel that it was somehow their fault. CSADV offers services for family and relatives of victims of sexual assault.
Be available. The victim may need to talk at odd hours, or a great deal at the beginning. They may not have a lot of people they can talk to, and they may over rely on one person. Be there as much as you can and give them information about the crisis line, individual and group counseling at CSADV.
Let her know she is not to blame. This is crucial. Many rape victims blame themselves. The victim needs to be reassured that the rapist is to blame, not the victim.
Be patient and understanding. Everyone has their own timetable for recovering from a rape. Do not impose your own timetable on the victim.
Encourage action. For example, suggest that they call CSADV, go to a hospital or other health facility, and/or call the police. Respect their decision if they decide not to file charges.
Do not be overly protective. Encourage the victim to make their own decisions. They need to feel in control of their life and this will not be possible if you do everything for them.
Accept their choice of solution to the rape, Even if you disagree with what they are doing. It is more important that the victim make decisions and have them respected than it is for you to impose what you think is the “right” decision.
Put aside your feelings and deal with them somewhere else. Although it is supportive for a rape survivor to know that others are equally upset with what happened, it does the victim no good if on top of their own feelings they have to deal with your feelings. If you have strong feelings, talk to another friend or call CSADV.
Reactions and Feelings of Significant Others Family members and significant others have also been victimized when someone they know, love or care about has been sexually assaulted. Significant others may also have expressed and controlled reactions, similar to rape victims themselves. This also indicates a state of shock from the incident. Some common feelings felt by significant others of rape victims are:
- At assailant for committing the crime
- At victim for engaging in “risky” behavior
- At system for letting “those kind of people” run the streets
- For the victim’s well being and safety
- For the victim’s rights
- About how the rape will effect their own life
- About how the relationship between the victim and significant other will change
- Worry about gossip
- Embarrassed for the victim
- Feel guilty for not having prevented the assault (“I should have been with them, or I should have given them a ride home…”)
- Feel guilty for not having been there to protect the victim
- Realization that it can happen to them too
- Intense heightened awareness of environment
The Most Important Words to Communicate to a Survivor:
“I’m glad you’re alive.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I’m sorry it happened.”
“You did the best you could.”