Seek out a private, quiet place to begin talking. Allow plenty of time to talk at length. Start by saying the following:
- It is not your fault.
- I am here to listen.
- I am sorry it happened.
- Listen. Your friend may need to tell you about the assault over and over again.
- Believe. Survivors need to know that you believe what happened. It is rare that people make up stories about sexual assault.
- Validate feelings. Acknowledge your friend's sadness, anger, fear or confusion.
- Assure. Tell your friend that she/he did the best she/he could do to survive the situation and that no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
- Don't say "When are you going to get over this?"
- Don't blame or judge your friend.
- Avoid treating your friend like a helpless victim.
- Healing takes time. Respect your friend's pace and be patient.
- Accept your friend's decision whether to report the assault and/or to cooperate with the prosecution.
- Help your friend with plans, but don't make decisions for her/him.
- Respect your friend's right to tell or not to tell others about the assault.
- Only give advice if and when your friend asks for it.
- Remind your friend that sexual assault is a crime and is never the victim's fault.
- Remind your friend that millions of people have experienced sexual assault and that she/he is not alone.
- Help your friend identify support systems and provide information on local crisis or mental health providers.
- You may accompany your friend to either the hospital or the law enforcement station.
- Stay with your friend through the healing process.
- Don't pressure your friend to resume sexual relationships until she/he is ready. This may take some time.
Reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement is a very individualized decision that victims will need to make for themselves. Remember, if your friend decides not to report, they are still fully entitled to support services and medical care. If your friend does decide to report, you will need to know what to expect from the criminal justice system. Below is a brief overview of what to expect. Your local sexual assault program advocate will be able to more fully help you understand the process in your area and to support you through it.
A sexual assault evidence kit, sometimes called a "rape kit", is performed by medical personnel to collect evidence at the request of the law enforcement. Although medical personnel who collect the evidence are well-trained, the process may be uncomfortable. Support is important; your friend may need you to be there. The cost of collection of the evidence will be assessed to the county. However, there may be other costs incurred at the hospital for medical treatment that are not considered part of the evidence kit. If your friend has reported the assault to law enforcement, she/he may be eligible for Crime Victims' Compensation benefits that can help pay for financial losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, counseling/therapy and other costs related to the assault.
Law enforcement will need to ask your friend questions about the assault. Some questions may be very difficult to answer and may not make sense at the time they are asked, but there is a reason for them. It is not unusual for law enforcement to visit with the victim numerous times during the course of the investigation. Once law enforcement has investigated and has been able to identify the offender, they will send the information to the prosecutor.
The prosecutor determines if there is enough evidence to move forward with prosecution. The system sometimes moves slowly. It sometimes seems that just as a victim begins to feel OK, she/he is thrown back into the middle of the trauma because of a court hearing or trial. Sometimes victims find it very important to have information about the court case and proceedings. Most prosecutors have Victim Witness Coordinators who can help get this information. Victims have a legal right to certain information about the case.
Advocates from your local sexual assault program can be accessed whether or not your friend chooses to report. Advocates are trained to be with victims at the hospital, go to the law enforcement station, provide individual and group counseling, and provide you with specific information about sexual assault. Whether your friend decides to report, getting in touch with your local sexual assault program can be a very important and helpful step in healing.
Sexual assault is a crisis, and we all handle crisis in different ways. Some victims go into shock after sexually assaulted, or experience overwhelming fear, anger, shame or anxiety. The emotional reaction to sexual assault is complex and often confusing. Remember that these feelings and experiences are not unusual. The fear and confusion will lessen with tie, but the trauma may disrupt your friend's life for a while.