Following rape or sexual assault, many people feel distressed and may find that it is difficult to cope. Supporting a partner, friend or family member who has been sexually assaulted can be distressing. It can be very hard to know what to say and do to help.

Advice for families, partners and friends

Anyone can find themselves supporting a relative, a friend or partner who has been raped or sexually assaulted. Rape and sexual assault are terrifying experiences and everybody reacts differently.

What can I do?

It can be hard to know how to support someone who has suffered an assault and difficult to know what to say. There are no rules setting out exactly how to respond: listening and being there are the most important things you can do.

The recovery process can take months, even years.

Talking about the assault

Talk to your partner, relative or friend let them know you are there to listen when they are ready. They may not want to tell you everything that has happened, and some people never disclose all the details to their family and friends. This doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you.

Try not to ask why the rape or sexual assault happened, or why your loved one didn’t stop the assault. Many people initially blame themselves and you need to help them realise that no one is to blame for being assaulted.

Understanding emotions

Encourage your partner, relative or friend to talk about how they are feeling. Encouraging them to express these feelings can be very positive. Many people tend to block out these emotions as they can be too uncomfortable or they don’t want to distress you.

If you find that you need additional support or advice, you can call the Blue Sky Centre on 02476 865505 or your GP to refer you to a counsellor.

Reporting the sexual assault

The decision to report the assault to the police is up to your partner, relative or friend. Only contact the police yourself if they have given you their permission to involve the police.

Rape and abuse takes away a person’s power and control. It is important that they are given their control back by:

  • Allowing them to speak about the rape or assault in their own time.
  • Allowing them to make any decisions.
  • Giving them their choices not what you think they should do.

The decision of whether to report the crime to the police is a very difficult one. Many people decide that they do not want to face going through a possible court case. They may be ashamed of discussing what actually happened and prefer to cope with the effects of the rape or sexual assault without police help. They may also feel unable to face their attacker and find the idea of going to court traumatic. You or your loved one can contact the Blue Sky Centre for information on 02476 865505.

Whatever your partner, relative or friend decides, give practical support where possible. For example, offer to go with them to any appointments such as to the Blue Sky Centre or to the police.

Consider your own reactions

When supporting someone who has been assaulted anger can be a common reaction. Make sure your partner, relative or friend knows you are not angry with them. The person you are supporting may be feeling that they are to blame for what happened and could be even more sensitive to your reactions and thoughts.

You may feel frustrated because you were unable to prevent the rape or assault from happening, or protect your loved one. Realise that you cannot put things right, be patient, find out what would help them, and this will help you deal with your own feelings.

Useful steps:

Talking to your friend or family member in a safe, confidential environment where they will feel relaxed.

Listen to what they have to say. Try not to interrupt or ask too many questions.

Let them make their own decisions. It’s important that your loved one feels that they have support, whether they decide to involve the police or not.

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