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

You more than like­ly know a sex­u­al assault survivor.

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

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.

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. "It's okay to say that it'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 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; 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 were, the action was unacceptable.

Assure them that friends are there to stay and support them.

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

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."

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?"

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.

10. Don't say anything; show up, be there for them, and sit with them through it.

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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1 Response

  1. D. Dyer says:

    Thank you so much for writ­ing this. Just hear­ing the sim­ple affir­ma­tion that you’re being hurt isn’t OK can be so incred­i­bly meaningful.

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