Simple Ways You Can Support Survivors Of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault has been a plague on society for literally all of human history. As a result, according to Psycom, most women (and some men) of today may still carry the remnants of those centuries of trauma around in their DNA. To make matters worse, sexual assault is still incredibly commonplace in modern society. One in six American women have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape, as detailed by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website (RAINN).


Never has the prevalence of modern sexual harassment and assault been put on display as it has been since 2017, when the hashtag #MeToo went viral in response to allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Rosario Dawson identified themselves as survivors along with thousands of everyday people, per Evening Standard. And an entire movement emerged.

Whether you were one of many people who hadn't given the issue much thought before that point and now the magnitude is clear, or you've recently discovered that a loved one is a survivor, here's how you can offer support. 

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).


Treat everyone like a survivor

If you know at least six women, the odds are very high that someone you know is a sexual assault survivor. The odds are also very high that this survivor doesn't disclose the fact that they've been assaulted to most people, with fear of not being believed a major factor in the decision to stay silent (via Jackson Health System).


When a survivor does tell their story, it tends to be after a period of getting to know you and observing your behavior. Do you crack "harmless" rape jokes with your friends in private or question the motives of women in the media who come out as victims? If so, you're sending the message to any unknown survivors in your midst that their story won't be believed. Rather, treat all survivors with respect, which will let those around you know that you support them, too.

Believe their stories

If a survivor has chosen to share their story with you, treat it as the honor that it is. Listen actively and sympathetically without interrupting. Above all, take what they say at face value and without judgement. Don't ask questions about why the assault happened or for clarification that suggests you might think their recollection may be skewed. Recognize that you (and the rest of America) have been influenced by decades of rape culture that encourages male sexual violence, sexualizes women, and then dismisses victims while excusing perpetrators (via Ms.).


It is likely that your initial thoughts might include questioning the accuracy of the survivor's account or wondering if there was a misunderstanding. Silently dismiss these thoughts as social conditioning and focus on offering support. 

Share resources

While you may be able to intellectually sympathize, it is nearly impossible to truly understand where a sexual assault victim is coming from if you haven't experienced anything similar. But this doesn't mean that you can't offer support or even gentle advice.


If you suspect that the victim who has confided in you is feeling alone or isolated, provide them with resources for survivors like the National Sexual Assault Hotline by RAINN. The service provides confidential support via telephone or online chat. 

Don't push

If you've suggested that a survivor reach out for help but they haven't followed through, don't push them to do so. They may not be ready to share their story with someone they don't know personally. The same goes for encouraging them to report their assault. You may feel so enraged when you hear your loved one's story that you want to see justice for their abuser. However, forcing a victim to come forward will only push them back into silence, especially when they face the overwhelming likelihood that their attacker will walk away unscathed (via RAINN).


Be mindful of media

People who have survived sexual assault often struggle with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD, which can include vivid flashbacks of the traumatic event, acute mental distress, and physical shaking or nausea, can be triggered by media consumption, according to WebMD.


If you plan to invite a survivor to go see a movie or attend a watch party, for example, do some research first. Use a service like to find out if what you're planning to watch contains any depictions of sexual assault. If it does, either choose another movie or provide a trigger warning well in advance and let the survivor decide if they want to sit this one out. 

Speak up

Offering direct support to a loved one once you know they are a survivor of sexual assault is one thing. Living your life as a supporter of all sexual abuse victims is quite another. One of the most powerful ways you can identify yourself as a believer, supporter, and safe place to those who haven't shared their stories yet is to always speak out against sexual harassment, violence, coercion, and rape culture in general, no matter who you're surrounded by (via UN Women).