How To Support A Loved One Who's Survived A Sexual Assault

Sadly, sexual assault isn't rare. According to some stats, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and one in six women has been raped or experienced attempted rape — and those are just the numbers based on people who have spoken up (via Bureau of Justice Statistics). For some, speaking up means admitting it happened when they'd just rather forget it. While for others, speaking up means putting a face to the epidemic that is sexual assault and seeking justice. No matter which path a victim takes, it's their personal choice. However, considering the rates of PTSD in those who have been sexually assaulted, even if one doesn't want to publicly come forward, therapy is always a good idea (via National Library of Medicine).

If a loved one comes to you after being sexually assaulted, it can be hard to navigate what to say or do. Of course, you want to offer support and be there for them in any capacity they need you, but feeling unsure of how to do that, considering the situation, is normal. "We hear time and again from survivors that the support they receive from those they're closest to can have a huge impact on their healing," vice president of communications at RAINN Heather Drevna tells TZR. If someone you love comes to you and tells you they've been sexually assaulted, here's how you can support them.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Focus on their courage

It doesn't matter how long ago or how recently the assault took place; you want to let your loved one know that it took real courage to tell you about what happened to them (via RAINN). Just the fact that they told you speaks volumes as to how important you are to them and how much they trust you.

Also focus on the courage it takes to have survived the assault and to carry it with them on a daily basis. Because too many sexual assault victims blame themselves, you want to remind them, as many times as necessary, that it wasn't their fault (via Rape Crisis). But you also want to let them know that self-blame, although unwarranted, is part of the process of dealing with what happened. Every time this topic comes up, mention their courage and the strength they have inside them to eventually realize they absolutely did nothing wrong and the assault is completely unrelated to anything they did or didn't do. 

There's too much victim blaming around sexual assault, a narrative that needs to be expunged, so make sure your conversation with your loved away is as far away from any type of blame as possible. 

Really listen to what they have to say

More than anything, your loved one needs you to listen right now. They don't need to hear anecdotes about other people who have experienced a similar situation or what you think they should do about it. Your loved one will decide what's best for them in time. Right now, their comfort level in talking about it extends to you, no one else. Also, keep your emotions in check when listening. "Don't let your own feelings of anger or sadness get in the way of you being there for your [loved one]," psychotherapist and author of "It Wasn't Your Fault: Freeing Yourself From the Shame of Childhood Abuse With the Power of Self-Compassion" tells The New York Times.

Allowing yourself to get angry at whoever committed the assault or emotional (as much as you may want to) isn't going to help the situation. If you need to get angry and cry, do it on your own time and not in front of them. As you listen, you may find that your loved one is different when it comes to physical touch or even how they interact with you — don't call attention to it. This is completely normal behavior for someone who has survived a sexual assault.

While you should keep any unsolicited advice to yourself, if the assault occurred within the last 10 days, suggest to them that they go to the hospital (via Health Partners). If any DNA can be retrieved, then that's a good thing should your loved one decide to pursue pressing charges. If they don't want to go, don't push it. Ultimately, the best way to support them is to listen, be there, and let them know they're loved.