There are certain times in life when words fail—it’s hard to think of what to say or do. If you receive a disclosure from someone about an incident of sexual violence, it’s completely normal to freeze, to panic, or wish someone else could help in your place.
Often, speaking about what happened is incredibly difficult for the survivor. If they’re telling you, they trust you to help.
Take a deep breath, remain as calm as possible, and remember that the survivor chose you to help them. You can do it.
If the Assault is Very Recent
Ensure that the survivor is in a safe location, or help them find a safe place to be in the short term.
Make sure the survivor knows you believe them, and remind them that what happened was not their fault.
Encourage the survivor to seek medical attention for the treatment of sexually transmitted infections, possible pregnancy, concussions, or other injuries.
Survivors have the option of requesting a forensic exam (rape kit), which will mean the automatic involvement of the police; it is the survivor’s choice whether or not to get this exam. Medical care will still be given without a forensic kit.
It is the survivor’s choice whether or not to involve the police. Voice your support in an offer to accompany them to the police station if ever they want to make a report, and respect the survivor’s wishes if they do not want to do so that this time.
Within the first 3 days (72 hours) it is recommended that victims of sexual assault not bathe, brush their teeth, eat or drink, change clothes, or otherwise tidy up if they are considering reporting to the police; these actions make it difficult for the police to collect evidence.
- There is no statute of limitations on reporting sexual abuse/assault to police; the report can be made at any time in the future.
- Get more information on recent sexual assault for survivors.
Remind the survivor that 100% of the blame rests with the offender, no matter the circumstances.
Respect the survivor’s request for privacy; allow them to choose what to share and when.
Encourage the survivor to seek professional help. It is not uncommon for survivors to want to forget what happened and try to move on, but research shows that the sooner they can speak about the experience in a supportive environment (with friends, family, and/or an professional counsellor) the faster and more complete the healing process will be. Our counselling services are free and confidential.
Validate what the survivor sees to be the effects of their experience. It is important not to minimize the experience or the survivor’s feelings to try and get them to feel better. There is no timeline for recovery—it takes as long as it takes.
Sometimes talking about it can be overwhelming—for both you and the survivor. There are many ways of being supportive (going for a walk, running errands together, preparing meals are examples)—and we encourage you to find the ones that work best for your relationship with the survivor.
Respect the survivor’s independence and avoid the temptation to be overprotective. Many survivors worry that they will be seen or treated differently because of their experience.
Take Care of Yourself
In the aftermath of sexual assault, family, friends and partners often have responses that are parallel to those of the survivor: shock, rage, confusion, and feelings of helplessness. If you need support, SSAIC is here for you. Call our 24-hour Crisis Line (306-244-2224) or make an appointment with our office (306-244-2294).