What to Say
You’ve just learned that someone you know is a victim of sexual assault. You’re struggling to find the right words, to know what to do…While there are no hard-and-fast rules, the following guidelines will help you know how to handle the situation.
If it just happened to a teenager or adult…
- Accompany them to the hospital and/or police department
- Encourage them to call a hotline, like RAINN, when they are ready
- Do not press them to talk about it
- Be available to listen
- Do not judge
If a child tells you that they have been / are being abused…
- Listen to what they have to say – do not be judgmental or ask leading questions.
- Be calm; it may be difficult for you to hear what they are telling you, but it is harder for them to tell. You need to be the strong one in the situation if you can be.
- Assure the child that it was not their fault.
- Believe them and confirm whatever feelings they are having – fear, disgust, anger, etc.
- Determine if the child is in any immediate danger. Is their home safe to return to?
- Let them know that you are glad that they told you.
- Assure them that this doesn’t change your relationship with them. An abused child may fear they won’t be believed or that you will think differently about them because of what happened.
- Be honest with the child and let them know what you are planning to do (call the police, etc.) so they won’t feel betrayed by finding out afterward that you told someone else. Let them know that you will try to find help for them from people who know how to handle this.
If the assault was in the past…
- Listen. This is the single most important thing you can do. If the victim is finally able to put words to what happened to him or her, let them say as much or as little as they want to. Listen with concern, not judgment.
- Refrain from asking for details. Let them dictate what they are willing to tell.
- Reassure them that this was not their fault.
- Encourage them to call a hotline, like RAINN, when they are ready.
- Understand that depending on where they are in the healing process, they may be difficult to be around as they cycle through anger, loss and other components of the healing process. They may direct their anger at you simply because you are there; try as best you can to understand that their anger or other emotions may have little or nothing to do with you
- Sometimes a hug is the best thing you can offer in the moment. But be sensitive to the fact that they were a victim of a crime involving unwanted touch and they may not want or be receptive to being touched, even with a caring hug, at this stage in their recovery. Ask for permission first, “Would it be alright if I gave you a hug?”