How to a Help a Victim of Sexual Assault
If a friend or family member tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, there are a few practical things you need to consider so you can help them. Your loved one may or may not want to press charges. This is entirely their choice, so you should not push it. Evidence can only be collected by medical personnel within seven days of the incident, but charges can be pressed later.
Here are some things you should know:
- The emergency room staff will perform a forensic medical exam and collect evidence against the perpetrator. These can happen up to seven days after the assault.
- To gather the most evidence, it is recommended that the victim does not shower, use the restroom, eat, brush their teeth or change clothes after.
- If possible, the survivor should provide any other evidence to support their case. This includes sheets, blankets or anything with DNA from the perpetrator.
- Bring a change of clothes for your friend if necessary, as the hospital will keep theirs for evidence.
- When genital rape occurs, a doctor may test for STI’s. A doctor may also prescribe emergency contraception if there is a risk of pregnancy.
- Most hospitals provide an advocate for sexual assault survivors for support during the process. They can be requested from local rape crisis centers if one is not sent immediately. An advocate provides information regarding the survivor’s legal rights and options.
Supporting Your Friend
You need to fully listen and stay present in the moment. Don’t plan your next sentence or fixate on what you want to hear. Your loved one deserves to be truly heard after experiencing this violent event.
Things Not to Say
- What were you wearing?
- Did you lead them on?
- Were you drunk?
- Were you flirting? Did you give the wrong impression?
- Why didn’t you fight back?
- Are you lying?
These phrases are examples of victim blaming and should always be avoided. Remind your loved one that it is not their fault. The responsibility is always on the rapist, not the victim.
Respect the Autonomy of Your Loved One
Your loved one can make decisions about their own life. It is never appropriate to tell a rape victim to get therapy, go to the police or talk to their parents. Don’t take away their power, because that is exactly what the perpetrator did during the assault. Ask them if they’ve considered talking to a therapist, but be open to any answers.