When someone has been raped or sexually assaulted, they obviously need a great deal of support from the people around them as well as from people like counselors, the police, doctors and so on. Many people simply do not know how to help somebody through the trauma of rape or sexual assault, and so they become frustrated and bewildered and feel that they are in some way failing the person they care about. These feelings can sometimes be transmitted to that person, making it even harder for them to cope with their experiences and often leaving them with even more feelings of guilt and confusion.
Every person responds differently to abuse, although there are certain feelings that are common, such as fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness and guilt. The feelings a person has may vary from week-to-week, day-to-day – even minute-to-minute. What is important is that someone who has been attacked is allowed to experience their feelings without fear of having them invalidated or dismissed. It is important that they feel they have people who will allow them to talk and will try to understand their needs rather than assuming that others know best and rushing them to “get over it”.
It is essential that they know they are believed, and that they are allowed to begin to rebuild their life at their own pace. The dominant feature of sexual abuse is that it is forced on a person against their will, and it is an act of violence and violation regardless of how much visible “violence” is used; it takes away a person’s control, and so it is vital that someone who has been through this be in control of their journey to recovery. People who have been raped or sexually abused need to rebuild feelings of safety, trust, control and self-worth, all things which are often lost through an assault.
The following are some tips on “DOs” and “DON’Ts” to help you to help the person you love through the trauma of rape or sexual assault. The responses of those near to a survivor can occasionally make things more difficult for him or her, and that is something nobody wants.
The focus should always be on the survivor – never try to make them do anything they don’t feel comfortable with. Also try to remember that you need support too, in order to continue supporting the survivor. Counseling is available for secondary survivors too. This information is taken from a leaflet provided by the Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service, UK.