It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted. Even sorer when they are a friend or family member. To a survivor, disclosing sexual assault to anyone can be very difficult, so we encourage you to be as supportive and without judgment.
Sometimes support means providing resources, such as how to reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline, seek medical attention, or report the crime to the police. But often listening is the best way to support a survivor.
Here are some specific phrases RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) National Sexual Assault Hotline staff recommend to be supportive through a survivor’s healing process.
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their lives. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy..
Sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. While we’re making progress — the number of assaults has fallen by more than half since 1993 — even today, only 6 out of every 1,000 rapists will end up in prison.