Healing from Sexual Violence: How Friends and Family Can Help

“It was scary to tell him, because it made it feel more real. But it was also a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and the true start to my healing. If he hadn’t opened the conversation and made me feel like I could talk about it, my healing would have taken even longer to get started.”

— Sydney

About one-third of visitors to the hotline have never disclosed before. As a result, many conversations become about disclosure — when it goes well, when it doesn’t, and when someone is thinking about disclosing and is worried about how someone in their life will react.

Don’t Play Detective — Just Listen

Many people are shocked and upset when they learn that someone they love has experienced sexual violence. They’re so worried about saying the wrong thing and so badly want to help that they start asking a lot of questions.

“We were attempting to be intimate, and I just broke down crying and told her I couldn’t. I told her what happened to me, and she held me as I cried and didn’t ask any details.”

— Val

Even if you have good intentions, unfortunately, this isn’t helpful. Asking questions can make a survivor feel blamed or pressured into sharing more of their story than they’re comfortable with. It’s important to keep in mind that, if someone discloses an assault to you, they’re not looking for you to gather facts — they’re looking for your love and support.

Recognize the Importance of Managing Your Own Emotions

It’s normal to feel angry or upset that something has happened to someone you love — and you might even think that showing your feelings is a way of expressing that you care about them. However, this can be counterproductive.

  • I believe you.
  • It’s not your fault.
  • You are not alone.
  • You didn’t do anything to deserve this.
  • Thank you for telling me this.
  • I am always here for you.

“The best way to support someone is to just listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t try to justify or relate. Don’t tell us you know how we’re feeling. Don’t give advice on how we should cope with it. And don’t be angry — I’m already angry enough.”

— Tasha

By managing your emotions, you can help remove this burden from the person who is disclosing so that they can focus on their own healing process.

Don’t Tell a Survivor What is Right for Their Healing

Every survivor’s healing journey is different. It can be helpful to let someone know what resources are available to them, but you should avoid telling them what to do. Even if you feel that they should report to police, get medical attention, or tell someone else in their life, the best thing for you to do is to listen, provide resources if asked, and support whatever decision they make. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert, but you can offer to help connect them with one if they’re interested.

“Everyone was trying to make me do what they thought would help me. People were trying to force me to act in a certain way, but my sister didn’t. Because of that, she truly gave me my voice back.”

— Tarhata

To Sum it Up

It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, especially when they are a friend or family member. For a survivor, disclosing can be very difficult, so being supportive and non-judgmental is crucial. Listen patiently, validate their feelings, and don’t ask too many questions. Remember, there is no timetable for healing from trauma, and having the continued support of friends and family is key to the process. Avoid putting pressure on the survivor to engage in activities they aren’t ready to do yet, and encourage them to be kind to themselves during this difficult time.

  • Thank them for trusting you
  • Ask how you can help
  • Listen without judgement
  • Keep supporting





NSVRC provides research & tools to advocates working on the frontlines to end sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.

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National Sexual Violence Resource Center

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

NSVRC provides research & tools to advocates working on the frontlines to end sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.