FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

HOW TO PROVIDE SUPPORT TO THE SURVIVOR

Remember that there is no magical thing to say which will make everything all right. Your caring and support are the most important gifts you can share. Respect his or her need to talk, to you or to others, and avoid pushing a survivor to talk before they are ready.

*When a survivor is ready to talk, be there to listen. Good listening involves not only hearing what they are saying, but also empathizing with him or her, or putting yourself in one’s place. A good listener doesn't quickly jump in with answers or solutions. Setting aside plenty of time to simply listen to one’s thoughts and feelings is the best way to offer support. Remember that this is their time, and you may want to withhold your own feelings if they are extreme.

*Allow the survivor to express his or her full range of feelings without fear of condemnation or criticism. Don't try to talk him or her out of their feelings even if you are not comfortable with them. Be patient with the different emotions and behaviors, even if they seem uncharacteristic. Many of a survivor’s responses will be normal reactions to trauma. If you are worried about his or her responses to the rape, call ORCC to discuss your concerns.

*Be aware of comments which try to distract him or her or discount what he or she is feeling. Comments such as, "Try to keep busy and think about something else," or "Don't worry, everything will be all right," may make a survivor feel unheard.

*If you are unsure how to respond to the survivor, be honest, express your concern and ask how you can best support him or her. Honest and caring communication can help everyone through this crisis.

*Avoid prying or pressing for details about the attack. Let a survivor open up at his or her own pace. Avoid asking questions out of your own interest or curiosity. Remember that your main goal is for his or her recovery.

*Avoid comments or questions which imply blame. Asking questions like "Why didn't you scream?" or "What were you doing there in the first place?" will only make a survivor feel as though you believe he or she is at fault.

*Be willing to assist with medical and legal concerns. An advocate can provide information, but survivors may also need a friend during these times.

*Assist the survivor in feeling safe and minimizing the risk of future assaults. Help him or her develop a safety plan that he or she is comfortable with and suggest options when asked.

*Support survivors in regaining control of their lives. The act of rape has temporarily taken away their personal control and choice. You can help the survivor regain that control by encouraging him or her to make their own decisions. It is important that they make their own choices ranging from what to eat and wear, to major decisions such as reporting to the police and prosecuting. Although you may want to help by doing things for him or her, this just reinforces the loss of control. Any ideas that you have can be posed as suggestions for consideration instead of advice. For example, you might ask, "Do you think you might feel better if you had someone stay with you tonight?" or “What do you think would happen if you don't report to the police?” Accept his or her decisions even if you are in disagreement.

*Support a survivor’s decision to choose who to tell about the rape and when to tell them. Adhere to their decisions. Do not discourage a survivor from telling certain people. Remember that rape is a crime that happened to the survivor, and he or she is not responsible if other people become upset. The crime will, of course, be painful to those who care about the survivor, but it is not their responsibility to protect others.

*If children are involved, they may know or sense that something has happened. It is important that they have someone to talk to about their feelings as well. Seeking professional help may be important in helping children deal with the assault.

*Recognize your own limitations and encourage the survivor to seek help with someone who is trained in rape and sexual assault counseling.  Ozark Rape Crisis Center can provide individual support and can also make counseling referrals. While the support you provide as a friend or loved one is crucial and cannot be replaced, survivors may also benefit from professional counseling.

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