Every year in the United States approximately 213,000 individuals are victims of sexual assault. While the number of sexual assaults occurring every year is substantial, over 60% of individuals who have been sexual assaulted do not report what has happened to them. Some victims of sexual assault do not report the assault to law enforcement but instead reach out to loved ones for support. These loved ones are often left feeling unsure of how to help their friend or family member. (Basile et al., 2007; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007; RAINN, 2009)
Here are several ways to best support a loved one who has been sexually assaulted:
• It is important to listen and be there for the person without being judgmental about the situation.
• Be patient. It may take your loved one time to open up about their experience.
• Help empower your loved one. Sexual assault is based on power; therefore it is critical not to put pressure on them to do specific things. Instead, it is important for that individual to regain their power and make decisions on their own.
• Provide resources on reporting the sexual assault, and then allow the individual to make their decision. If they would like to report the sexual assault, then offer to accompany them through this process.
• Let your loved one know that hotlines and counseling services are available if this is something they would like to use.
• Remember to take care of yourself! Sexual assault can affect everyone, so reach out to different support systems for yourself.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is a great organization that provides more information about sexual assault and has additional resources for survivors and their loved ones. Additional information can be found on their website.
Ashley is the chair of the Ohio Psychological Association of Graduate Students and a third year clinical psychology doctoral student at Wright State University. She obtained her B.A. in psychology, graduating with Cum Laude and departmental honors from the University of Cincinnati. Ashley’s interests include chronic illness, treatment adherence, neuropsychological disorders and developmental disorders in children.