How to be a good support person for someone:
Believe them. Research shows that if the first few respondents to the survivor believe them and support them, survivors have more confidence to go through with making a report and seeking appropriate counselling services.
Ask if they need medical help. Ask them if they need medical help and if they do, take them to the nearest hospital that has a sexual assault nurse present. Do not insist that they go to the hospital if they don't want to.
Follow their lead: When a person is assaulted they can feel a loss of control over their life and their body. If you push them to tell you more than they want to, to report the assault or to submit to a medical exam, you can re-traumatize them. Don't force touch or eye contact or take over the conversation. Basically just let them tell you however they feel most comfortable. Maybe they want to go for a walk outside, maybe they need to fidget or pace, maybe they want to go for coffee or maybe they want total privacy...whatever they feel comfortable with.
Stay away from WHY. Questions like "Why didn't you" or "Why did you" inadvertently judge the survivor. Recognize that everyone deals with their own personal situation differently. We don't want to say anything that implies the victim should have or could have done something better.
Know your local resources. Take time to learn where to easily access services in your area. The more options for support and reporting choices you can offer, the more empowered the survivor will feel
Listen. Listen without judgment and without offering unsolicited advice. Offer support and let the person know that you are there for them. Allow them to talk through their feelings -- it's one of the best ways to support someone who has been assaulted.
Learn. Learn more about trauma-informed approaches to supporting someone who discloses a trauma like sexual assault to you. There are a variety of ways that people resond to trauma. Understanding the ways they may behave after an assult or the various triggers they may experience is helpful in being a good support person.
Why Would Someone NOT Want To Report A Sexual Assault?
Sometimes people don't want to report a sexual assault and it's important as supporters that we understand and respect why people make those choices. If it hasn't happened to you it might be hard to understand why someone wouldn't want to report a sexual assault. I mean, don't they want that person to be punished? There's actually a lot of good reasons why a survivor might not want to report or even disclose an assault:
- Confusion about what happened, potentially due to haziness if alcohol or drugs were involved. Also, many people who experience trauma have trouble with some details or block out memories.
- Feelings of shame or embarrassment about what happened
- Conflicting feelings about the perpetrator often due to a relationship/friendship with the person
- Concerns about personal safety after reporting the assault
- Fear of being blamed and/or not believed
- Stigma: Societal expecations pressure men to be strong and tough and be able to take care of themselves. Or there could be jdugements that someone's sexuality is to blame for the assault or they may fear their sexuality will be questioned.
- Trauma affects everyone differently. Some people may just want to forget about it or try to put it behind them.
- Grooming can take place with adults and children. Often times a perpetrator has had the time and ability to groom the victim in ways that make them feel that reporting the assault is unsafe.