9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted

9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted 1

You more than like­ly know a sex­u­al assault sur­vivor. It's so com­mon, but because it's so heavy, many who want to be allies strug­gle to find the right thing to say.

We've all heard hor­ror sto­ries about unsym­pa­thet­ic author­i­ties and vic­tim blamers dis­guised as friends, but here I share the ways my friends sup­port­ed me when I told them I was assault­ed. This list is by no means comprehensive.

First and foremost, if you don't know how to say you care, show it:

9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted 2

Walk with your friend if they don't feel safe. Accompany them to the police sta­tion or the doc­tor. Chip in to pay for part of the med­ical expens­es, if applic­a­ble. Refer them to some­one who can help file a per­son­al pro­tec­tion order.

Encourage good self-care. Check in on your friend reg­u­lar­ly to see how they're doing. Remind them to sleep if you see them up late. Go gro­cery shop­ping or cook a meal for them. Do some­thing mind­ful with them that can take their wor­ries away, even if only briefly. Anything to steer them away from rumi­nat­ing on the "what ifs" is helpful.

Acknowledge how fucked-up the sexual assault was:

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it goes a long way for many rea­sons, even if the sur­vivor hasn't been victim-blamed.

1 "Don't downplay or let anyone downplay what he did."

For one, not all sur­vivors act the same way; some might act calm and con­trolled, more or less numb­ing their feel­ings. I KNEW that a vio­la­tion hap­pened, and I KNEW I couldn't swal­low with­out pain after the assault, but I didn't FEEL trau­ma­tized. I didn't FEEL l like a sex­u­al assault vic­tim, nor did I FEEL like what hap­pened was enough to call myself a survivor.

When my head and heart were still in analy­sis paral­y­sis, it helped to have a friend voice what I knew in my gut:

2 "Regardless of your feelings, that's fucked up."

As well, if there is a friend­ly or roman­tic his­to­ry, the sur­vivor has more incen­tive to give the assailant the ben­e­fit of the doubt than if they were a stranger. Sometimes it's hard­er to believe that some­one you trust­ed would delib­er­ate­ly hurt you than to act like it wasn't a big deal. That is espe­cial­ly true if the assault was in the con­text of an emo­tion­al­ly abu­sive relationship.

I want­ed to believe the best in my assailant. I want­ed to believe that there was just a mis­un­der­stand­ing that I could rea­son with, rather than a mali­cious, cog­nizant act of sex­u­al vio­lence. I need­ed a reminder that, at best, it was still sex­u­al mis­con­duct, even if unintentional.

3 "Stop talking to him. Of course, he's going to deny and gaslight if you confront him. It's not safe."

The most rel­e­vant fact is that he thought a severe vio­la­tion was okay to do to me. In that case, what else would he think was okay to do, to anoth­er per­son or me? I need­ed to a reminder that, as much as I want­ed to express my anger, there was no rea­son­ing with him. It was an issue that was big enough to be above my head, and not safe for me to go alone, no mat­ter what I want­ed to believe.

Remind them that sexual assault is not their fault:

Too many sex­u­al assault sur­vivors feel guilt for some­thing that wasn't their fault. It isn't lim­it­ed to self-blame for being assault­ed, but also includes self-blame for dis­rupt­ing some­one else's life.

4 "You didn't ruin his life. He ruined his life."

At one point dur­ing the inter­view, the inves­ti­ga­tor told me that the uni­ver­si­ty could expel my assailant. Thus I could ruin his life. While I under­stand that it's his job to be objec­tive, the word­ing is problematic.

My intent was nev­er to ruin my assailant's life, but to stay safe and keep oth­er stu­dents safe. It was his own deci­sion to vio­late anoth­er stu­dent, not mine; I was only the mes­sen­ger. That brings me to some­thing cru­cial that anoth­er author­i­ty told me:

5 "You didn't do anything wrong. You brought something important to the university's attention."

In an ide­al world, inves­ti­ga­tors every­where would do their job to dis­cern the verac­i­ty of con­flict­ing sto­ries, and sex­u­al assault sur­vivors report­ing wouldn't face stig­ma for report­ing. "Report" shouldn't be a dirty word; it should be help­ful for keep­ing the insti­tu­tion safe.

6 "You don't know why he did it, and you don't need to. It's not on you to explain the motivations behind someone else's crime."

The inves­ti­ga­tor told me that my sto­ry didn't make sense, because my assailant didn't have much incen­tive to do what he did. I instinc­tive­ly put my hands up, scowled, and shout­ed, "That's what I thought too!" The truth is, I might nev­er know why my assailant thought it was okay, but that's hard­ly rel­e­vant. No mat­ter what his moti­va­tions, the action was unacceptable.

Assure them that friends are there to stay and support:

7"I'm going to listen and talk you through this because that's what friends do. Thank you for sharing this with me."

9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted 3

It's under­stand­able that not every­one can han­dle the emo­tion­al labor of com­fort­ing a friend who went through sex­u­al assault, but there's a dif­fer­ence between com­pas­sion­ate­ly set­ting a bound­ary vs. ghost­ing in someone's time of need. Friends acknowl­edge. Friends don't make friends feel like bur­dens. It sounds so rudi­men­ta­ry, but after an emo­tion­al­ly abu­sive rela­tion­ship full of inval­i­da­tion, it's a huge relief to no longer feel like I'm walk­ing on eggshells.

8"You will replace the people you cut off with something better."

9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted 4

After report­ing the assault, I rapid­ly con­struct­ed a new sense of iden­ti­ty. I didn't want to see myself as a weak per­son, or some­one who accept­ed less than she deserved, or let her dis­em­pow­er­ment get to the point of ques­tion­ing whether report­ing sex­u­al assault was the right thing to do. I con­sid­ered in my life all the oth­er things I was accept­ing and, just like that, I burned bridges.

Cutting peo­ple off, delet­ing mes­sages, and dis­card­ing belong­ings to feel pow­er­ful became my new addic­tion. It was con­struc­tive once I han­dled it with nuance, but that didn't change how lone­ly I felt in the inter­im. Having even just one per­son say, "you will replace them" remind­ed me that there was some­thing bet­ter in store.

9 "Is there anything I can do to help?"

9 Comforting Statements For a Friend Who's Been Sexually Assaulted 5

Don't let the per­fect be the ene­my of the good. Nobody always knows the per­fect thing to say, but it's still bet­ter to do some­thing good than to do nothing.

There's no way I can write an all-encompassing arti­cle detail­ing every sin­gle way you could help a friend out. However, I was for­tu­nate to have sup­port­ive friends every step of the way, and I wish more sex­u­al assault sur­vivors could hear the affir­ma­tions I out­lined in this essay.

For fur­ther infor­ma­tion, please vis­it the Rape, Assault, & Incest National Network's web­site at rainn.org

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