It can be overwhelming and scary when a loved one tells you they have experienced a form of sexual violence. Victims of violence are often fearful when reaching out for help; explaining what has happened and asking for help often exposes feelings of extreme vulnerability and is a difficult and important step for victims. Victims reach out for help when they are ready, which varies from person to person; whether they are coming to you immediately after the incident(s) or years later, here are some general tips to help you communicate your complete support:
- Believe them. There may be others that will doubt your loved one; make it clear that you believe what they are telling you.
- Tell them this is not their fault and they don’t deserve this. Victims often blame themselves for what has happened. There is also a societal tendency to blame victims for what has happened to them (read more about rape culture here). Your loved one needs to hear from you that no matter what they were wearing, drinking, or doing, they did not deserve this, nor is it their fault.
- Tell them there are people who want to help. Victims often feel isolated and helpless. Remind them that they are not alone, and that there are many people and organizations that are qualified and willing to help them through the healing process, whether that involves pressing charges, getting medical care, seeing someone to talk through the trauma, or just exploring their options. See the resources available to survivors under the “Resources” tab here.
- Offer to take the next step to accessing help with them. Making that first step to get help from a professional can be extremely hard. Offering to make the first step with them, whether that is calling a resource center or going to the hospital, make the difference between your loved one accessing help or not.
For more detailed information on steps to take after each type of sexual violence, visit the Sexual Violence Resources homepage under the tab “Do You Need Help?”.
After you have helped your loved one, take a few minutes to recognize how you are feeling. Oftentimes, we operate under the assumption that bad things only happen to others; we know sexual violence occurs, but we feel safer thinking that it will never happen to people we care for. Learning that someone you care for has experienced something so traumatic can be traumatic itself. While being careful to not take on your loved one’s trauma as your own (that isn’t healthy for either of you), it is important that you allow yourself to process your reaction and emotions. Remember that LLCC has counselors available for students to speak with at no cost (see more information about the Advising & Counseling Office here). In this setting, you can process your reaction while maintaining your loved one’s right to privacy.