My Friend has been Raped, What Should I do?
What to do if your friend tells you they’ve just been a victim of sexual violence (rape) or sexual assault ?
When our friends come to us in a time of crisis, it’s very easy for us to think that they need us to do something, and spring into action. You may be reading this article now because your friend has arrived at your house and told you they’ve just been sexually violated in some way. You’re faced with this situation and naturally you’re looking for the ‘right’ thing to do.
There is no prescribed right or wrong, each situation is different, and every person’s reaction and experience in this moment is unique. What is true though is that the person who is in front of you has chosen you as a person they’re going to tell about a very traumatic experience.
Below is a guide to assist you; some do’s and don’ts – steps you can take when helping a friend who’s been a victim of sexual violence or assault.
Do – Make sure that they’re safe
Before anything else, make sure your friend is in a safe place. If they are still in the location with their attacker, ask if they’re able to leave safely or if they need assistance. If they ask you for help, assist in the most appropriate way while ensuring you’re not putting yourself in danger. However, if they are in immediate danger and they cannot escape, it is recommended that you contact the police or the nearest security services.
Do – Listen
Before you make any judgements or assumptions, let your friend speak. It will be difficult not to become emotionally involved, give advice and empathise, but in the first instance the best thing you can do, is to let them lead the conversation. You must remember that the experience they’ve just had may have affected them in many different ways, they may feel powerless, may blame themselves or even feel guilty. Listen openly and be patient.
Do – Keep your emotions in check
Give space for their emotions rather than imposing your own. It’s easy to become outraged or angry, but your emotions can overplay theirs, give them space to feel and express their feelings if they want to, even if their expressions seem irrational in the moment..
Do – Let them know it was not their fault
The blame for sexual assault and rape never lies with the victim. Nothing anyone does, the way they dress or things they say are ever a reason or justification for someone to sexually force themselves onto another without their consent. Your friend may be blaming themselves; help by reminding them that what happened to them, was not their fault.
Claiming that any form of sexual violence is the victim’s fault is a myth. See more myths about sexual violence and assault here. Assure them that these common misconceptions are false and that they are not to blame.
Do – Ask them what they want from you
Ask your friend how you can help and what they need from you. They may just want you to listen, they may want help deciding what to do next, they may just want you to sit beside them while they cry. Try to not go into overdrive, thinking of the things they should be doing – give them the space they need and let them lead the decision making process. Victims of rape and sexual assault often feel a loss of control. Focus on helping them regain the control they may have lost by allowing them to make decisions for themselves.
Do – Support their choices
Your friend may or may not want to report what’s happened to them to the police, and this decision is absolutely up to them. They will know when it is the right time for them to take this step. If they do want to report the attack, please do go through our step by step guide, to give you detailed information on the steps that your friend will have to go through. If they do choose to report the attack, go with them to the police station, if they do not want to, never force them to. Whatever their decision, never report the incident to the police without your friend’s consent.
Do – Document
If they are confident enough to share details with you, as soon as you are able to, record in as much detail as possible, everything you have been told. Include dates and times where possible. Keep this record in a safe place as it may become important if your friend chooses to pursue criminal charges. Do not share this information with anyone without your friend’s consent.
Do – Encourage your friend to see a health professional
Whether or not your friend wants to report what happened to them to the police, if they have been injured, or if there’s a risk of pregnancy or having contracted HIV or any other STI/STD, they should be encouraged to visit a doctor or a rape crisis centre (ideally within 72 hours). At the medical centre, clinic or hospital, they can be checked for injuries, tested for infection and given post exposure prophylaxis if there’s a risk of having been exposed to any sexually transmitted infection or disease. Hospitals also carry ‘rape kits’, which can be used to collect samples. These samples can be used as evidence immediately or stored for future use if your friend decides they’d like to press charges at another time. Still encourage them to visit a health professional even if they’re not sure they’re been raped, perhaps they were unconscious at the time, or only have partial memories or flashes.
Do – Check-in
The road to recovery can be long and it’s important to support your friend over the long term and not just in the immediate aftermath. Check-in every so often, let them know you’re there for them should they need your support. Some friends may want you to just talk about ‘normal’ things to help them forget what happened, whatever their choice however, respect that.
Do – Take care of yourself
When assisting another person in a traumatic time, we sometimes forget that the secondary experience thereof can be traumatic as well. Don’t hesitate to see a professional therapist, councilor or trauma specialist if you need assistance to cope with everything you’ve heard, seen or experienced from and with your friend. Self-care enables us to better care for those around us.
Don’t – Touch or hug without consent
It’s so natural for us to give our friends a hug when they’re sad, and as much as they may have been welcome in the past, victims who’ve been sexually violated may not be ready to touch anyone. Give them back the control over their body. Therefore, follow their cues or ask if they want you to hug them, again in an open way and without judgement or reaction.
Don’t – Push
Your friend may not want to go into specific details about the attack, pushing them to disclose this information may re-traumatise them. You can ask if they want to tell you what happened when they feel confident enough, or you may even suggest that they write it down. It’s possible that writing it down may help them start to make sense of what has happened.
Don’t – Judge
Let them speak without casting judgement or down-playing the situation. Try to refrain from making statements that won’t help or aren’t true, such as, ‘It’s going to be OK’ or ‘maybe if you hadn’t had that last drink…’, or, ‘If I was you I would have…,’ or, ‘Look at what you’re wearing’.
Don’t – Plan for them
Don’t tell them what they have to do, or outline their recovery plan. They will need to recover in their own time, and at their own pace. You may assist them with information that might help them, such as the resources found on our resources page, but don’t force them to see or speak to anyone they don’t want to. Give them back their sense of control, and support them.
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