How to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted

By Casey Crow
Special to The SUN
Imagine you are going about your usual routine when a friend calls and tells you they have been sexually assaulted. You are overcome by emotion — anger, sadness, fear and helplessness. Perhaps you feel numb.
How you respond can influence your friend’s healing process, your relationship to each other and how you both move forward, but what do you do?
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is a good time to remember that sexual assault can happen to anyone. It happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status and, sadly, it can happen to the people we love.
Twenty-eight sexual assaults were reported to Rise Above Violence last year in Pagosa Springs.
One in three teens will experience sexual or physical abuse or threats from a boyfriend or girlfriend this year. One in five women are survivors of rape. One in three women and one in six men have experiences sexual violence in their lifetime. One in four women and one in six men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (https://nomore.org/know-the-facts-citations/). Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every nine minutes that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.
These statistics beg the question: What do we do when someone close to us is the victim of sexual violence?
First, it is important to know that sexual assault affects everyone differently. For some, the emotional impact can be immediate and short term. For others, the effects can be long lasting. If a friend or family member is sexually assaulted, he or she may experience shock, anger, mood swings, disturbances in eating and sleeping patterns, fear, helplessness, depression or an inability to concentrate.
Here are some guidelines for supporting a survivor of sexual violence provided by Georgetown University Law School:
• Believe unconditionally. People rarely lie about being sexually assaulted. Be sure your friend knows how much you support her or him.
• Let the survivor control the situation. Let your friend determine the pace of healing. Help your friend understand the options available and encourage your friend to keep her or his options open. Most importantly, allow your friend to make her or his own decisions.
• Assure your friend that it was not her or his fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Avoid blaming questions and judgmental phrases such as, “Why didn’t you scream?” or, “If I ever get my hands on the creep …,” or ,“I would have done this …” Avoid searching for things your friends should have done.
• Show you want to listen. A friend may confide in you 10 minutes or 10 years after the assault. At that time, it doesn’t matter so much what you say but how well you listen. Remember that your friend’s sense of trust has been violated, so one of the most important things you can do is respect her or his need for confidentiality.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help. Your friend may need medical attention or counseling. Offer to help your friend access outside services.
If someone you love has been sexually assaulted and you are seeking additional guidance, Rise Above Violence can provide you with further resources and support. Or, if you are a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence in need of direct support, call our 24-hour hotline at 264-9075.
Rise Above Violence is a nonprofit organization which promotes the belief that all people have the right to live free from violence. Rise provides 24-hour support and advocacy services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or other forms of violence, serving over 350 victims each year. Rise also works to eliminate violence through education for youth and our community. All programs and services are free and confidential including emergency prevention education and empowerment programs. Visit www.riseaboveviolence.org for more information or call 264- 9075 to talk to an advocate today.
Rise needs volunteers; we have many volunteer opportunities from special event help to being a volunteer crisis advocate. Call 264-1129 for more information.

This story was posted on April 30, 2019.