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Help A
Loved One

If someone has reached out to you for support after a sexual assault, your response is very important. If your loved one is in need of immediate care, please refer to the “Get Help” page or call our 24-hour helpline. Our hotline advocates are also available to support you, as someone who is also affected by this experience. 

How To Help

When a victim-survivor of sexual violence discloses their experience to you, it is important to: 

Responses to AVOID

A positive and supportive response can make a huge positive difference for a victim-survivor of sexual violence, but a negative or hurtful response, even if unintentional, can be very damaging or re-traumatizing. 

Below are some things to avoid. If you have responded in any of these ways in the past, you can still be supportive in helpful ways moving forward. Please reach out for support for yourself if you need it. 

Victim-survivors of sexual violence have been through an experience where power and control were taken away from them, and it is important to allow them to make their own decisions about the next steps. Do not assume what they want to do or decide what they should do next. Do not try to treat them differently or as if they are damaged. Do not try to distract them or get them to talk about something else, unless they explicitly ask you to do so. Keep confidence and maintain their privacy, unless you are required to report by mandatory reporting laws. If you are a mandatory reporter and must report, be honest about the next steps you must take and offer for them to be present while reporting if they would like to be.

Sexual violence is never the victim-survivor’s fault. Do not ask “why did you” or “why didn’t you” questions. Do not ask about what they were wearing, drinking habits, their relationship with the perpetrator, or their sexual history. Do not ask whether they fought back, screamed, or said “no.” Do not try to soften or justify the perpetrator’s actions. Do not minimize or trivialize their experience by saying it could have been worse or using statements that include “at least.” 

Do not share your own story at this time, unless they specifically ask and you feel safe and comfortable doing so. Do not compare their story to your own experiences or similar situations you may have heard of. Keep the focus of the conversation on them. Do not ask for more details than they choose to share. Do not respond in an overly angry or upset manner. This puts pressure on the victim-survivor to handle your response in addition to their own. Do not ask them to help you process your response but seek help for yourself at another time if you need it.

Even if you care deeply about the victim-survivor and want to support their healing, some statements can be harmful, even if unintentional. Here are some things to avoid saying to a victim-survivor:

“It couldn’t have happened that way.”
“You have to report this and press charges right away.”
“I am so mad at [the perpetrator]. I can’t believe they did that!”
“I am devastated. This is an awful story to hear.”
“Let’s talk about something else less upsetting for you.”
“You just need to _______ and it will be fine.”