Working With Someone Who Was Recently Sexually Assaulted
Talking about their options: What to do and who to tell
After a sexual assault, deciding who to tell and what to do are probably the most important, early decisions the survivor will make. The following can serve as a guideline to discuss these options with the victim, as appropriate.
After a sexual assault, these are some options for survivors:
- Tell someone you can trust
- Get medical care and testing for pregnancy and STD’s
- Call the local rape crisis program or 24-hour crisis helpline (RCASA Hotline: 540-371-1666 24hours a day/7days a week)
- Report what happened to the police
- Talk to a counselor for additional, confidential support. Most rape crisis centers have free counseling in-person or on the phone. There are also therapists in private practice who specialize in working with victims of sexual assault or abuse
Some common reactions after sexual assault:
If you are working with someone who was recently sexually assaulted, they are probably experiencing many different feelings and reactions. They might be feeling as though nothing will ever be the same. Or they might be trying to move on with their life as though nothing ever happened. People have different ways of responding to crises including sexual assault. There is no right or wrong way to react. The following are some of the more common responses that victims of sexual assault have said they experienced. It might be helpful to go over this list with the sexual assault survivor.
- Shock, denial or disbelief that it happened.
- Ashamed, embarrassed or guilty feelings.
- Angry, irritable or short-tempered.
- Sadness, crying spells or depression.
- Thinking about suicide and wanting to get away from everything.
- Feeling a loss of control in their life or with their options.
- Less interest in friends; not wanting to socialize as much.
- Loss of trust in others or in their own decision-making.
- Difficulty with concentration; forgetting common things.
- Changes in sleeping patterns (insomnia or over sleeping).
- Nightmares or flashbacks about what happened.
- Changes in appetite and food intake (more or less).
- Feeling insecure or uncertain about the future.
- Fears about being alone, about the future or about the rapist.
- Feeling on-guard, jumpy or easily startled.
- Isolating, staying alone more often (less time with family or friends).
- Feeling more anxious, nervous or scared
- Feeling numb or having a hard time expressing their emotions.
The impact on relationships with friends and family
It’s hard to know that someone you care about has been hurt in this way. However, most loved ones do want help, even if they are not sure how to respond or what to say. These are some reactions that sexual assault survivors might notice in family and friends. Some of these responses might be helpful and others are not what the survivor needs at all. Keep in mind that family and friends are usually trying to deal with this in the best way they can. Sexual assault survivors will probably have to tell their family and friends exactly what they need or want. Family and friends could do any of the following:
- Feel revengeful and want to hurt the offender.
- Be uncomfortable about what to say or whether to talk about it.
- Ask several questions and want to know everything that happened.
- Try not to take sides if they know both the victim and the offender.
- Blame the victim for things they may have done to put themselves at risk.
- Blame themselves for not doing anything to prevent the assault.
- Want to care for and protect the victim.
- Want to control the situation and make decisions about what to do.
- Disagree with the decisions the victim made.
- Express anger and frustration at the court process.
- Feel sad, hurt, angry or frustrated that this happened.
- Tell other people about what happened without asking the victim.
- Want the person to be “over it” sooner than they are ready.
- Feel closer to their loved one for sharing this difficult time.
- Not know what to say, so they don’t say anything.
- Be available to their loved one- anytime day or night
Most importantly, however family and friends respond, rape survivors may need extra support and guidance to get through this difficult time. Your response can make all the difference.
RCASA offers a hotline 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Please call us if you have been a victim of sexual assault or know someone who has. We are here to help! RCASA HOTLINE Number: 540-371-1666