When someone discloses to you about their sexual assault, you are hearing the story in one of the most vulnerable situations ever. Disclosing to someone is never easy. Your response could shape how they decide to deal with their trauma. I am here to help you know what to say and what not to say.
Here are examples of things to say to a sexual assault survivor…
“I believe you.” /“You’re so brave for sharing this with me.”
Always start by believing. Reiterate that it takes a lot of courage to disclose this information to someone. There is a stigma around being sexually assaulted and coming forward is extremely difficult due to the fear of people not believing you.
“It’s not your fault.”
Because it’s not. This goes back to what I said before, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Survivors often blame themselves when it comes to these situations even though it has nothing to do with their decisions at all. This is especially true in cases where the survivor knew her perpetrator.
“You are not alone.”
It’s true and there are a ton of resources for women in these situations.
“What can I do to help you?”
Always ask what you can do. Sometimes the best thing to do is just listen and be the one they can talk to. Let the conversation remain confidential unless the survivor mentions suicide; if someone mentions suicide, then it might be best to get someone of authority like a parent involved.
“What do you want to do?”/ “I support whatever you decide to do.”
This is vital. By asking them what they want to do instead of telling them what to do, you are giving them their power back. Don’t make suggestions as to what you would do, just let them decided and be there for them in whatever way you can.
Here are some things you probably shouldn’t say to a sexual assault survivor:
“Why did you….?”
This doesn’t even matter. What someone is wearing, what someone was drinking, whether the encounter started off consensual doesn’t matter. As Chessy Prout said in her book “I Have The Right To,” “Rape is not a punishment for poor judgement.”
“Well are you going to go to the police?”/ “Why didn’t you report this?”/ “Have you had a rape kit done?”
The most important thing you can do at the time someone discloses to you is tell them what their options are as far as reporting, not reporting, getting a kit done, getting therapy, but the important part is letting them decide what they want to do and supporting their decision. If someone chooses not to report, that’s okay. This is their journey and they get to decide how they handle their trauma. If they ask what you would do, say that this isn’t about me, this is about you and you have to decide for yourself.
“I could never go through what you went through.”
This is like saying better you than me. Instead, meet them with empathy and say “I imagine this is so hard for you and that you’re feeling.” and always leave the questions open ended. This gives them room to talk without leading them to the solution you want to lead them to.
“Well at least..”/ “It could’ve been worse, right?”
Anytime you say “well at least you’re alive” or “at least it’s over” takes away the reality from their situation. When someone is telling you this, it is probably one of the worst things that has ever happened to them and it’s such a personal crime. This is never an appropriate response to anyone’s feelings or trauma.
Other things to remember:
This isn’t a time to be like “well here is what I would do” because it’s not about you. This is about them.