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5 Ways to Support Sexual Assault Survivors If They Come to You For Help

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence, and contrary to what some may realize, it affects people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and racial identities.

I’ve never written about my experience as a survivor before. I’ve always been hesitant to share, often thinking, “what could I possibly have to add to this conversation?” I’ve also thought that my pain wasn’t great enough, large enough to be worthy of attention from others. None of these things are true. It is up to the survivor whether or not they want to disclose their story.

I want to share a few things that one can do to support someone in their life who is a sexual assault survivor — and you’re bound to know someone, and even if you don’t realize it. We all know someone, and sometimes this includes ourselves.

Here are five ways you can support sexual assault survivors, not just during the month of April but any time someone comes to you in search of support:

1. Ask the person what they need.

This is pretty self-explanatory; oftentimes, survivors of trauma know what they would like from a friend or trusted family member when they disclose what happened, while other times they aren’t so sure. Asking the person is a good place to start.

2. Offer them a warm beverage.

This might sound silly, but I had a friend in college who offered me a warm drink (typically hot tea) every time I came to her upset or triggered by my traumas. I found this to be not only thoughtful and sweet as a gesture, but that the warm drink regulated my fight-or-flight response system somewhat.

3. Listen and validate rather than jumping to advice-giving.

Validation and a kind, a listening ear is often, at least in my case, what helps the most.

4. Don’t ask the survivor details, including who the perpetrator is, if it is not disclosed.

It may be hard enough for the survivor to open up, and rehashing certain details, regardless of how long ago the assault happened, can be triggering.

5. If the survivor seems particularly distressed, ask if they would like some coping strategies to do together.

Some possible coping strategies include but are not limited to: watching a funny show or movie together, squeezing an ice cube, splashing cold water on one’s face, yoga or meditation, exercise, spending time in nature… these are just some of a few that I’ve used in the past.

Another important thing to note is that sometimes, survivors go to other survivors for help. It is important that if you have a history of sexual trauma, to also do self-care during or after helping others. It is also OK to set boundaries if you need to in order to maintain your own well-being. There are crisis lines (such as RAINN) that are available too.

I have been engaging in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for a couple of months and it’s really helped me with my traumas, including my sexual trauma. That said, I am grateful to the friends, family, and therapists I have gone to in the past about this subject. I hope that we can be more understanding toward each other and gain awareness of how much sexual assault can rewire someone’s nervous system in a negative way. That being said, therapy can rewire that same nervous system back to a healthier way.

I am more than my traumas, as are you.

For more stories on sexual violence, check out our list of 24 Mighty stories you need to read if you’ve experienced sexual violence.

Getty Images photo via AntonioGuillem

Originally published: April 14, 2022
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