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Helping Survivors of Rape and Sexual Assault

Sexual assault takes away a person’s personal power, control over her/his life and the feeling of safety in the world.  Survivors need time and support from the people around them to help work through their feelings and begin to heal and regain control over their lives.  A sexual assault can affect many parts of a person’s life from their relationships to work and school interactions.  Healing is individual and will be different for each person. 

  1. Be a good listener.  Listen carefully and respond to feelings as well as words.  Show that you are listening by responding to what you are hearing.  If you don’t understand, ask them to explain.

  2. Believe the experience without questions.  People rarely make up stories about sexual assault. 

  3. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking and feeling.  Let them tell you.  Ask them, “What are you feeling?” or “How can I help you?”

  4. Do not blame someone who has been sexually assaulted for what happened.  Avoid ‘why’ questions (for example: “Why did you go there?” or “Why did you drink so much?”)  Questions like these will make the person feel like it was their fault. 

  5. Help them understand that they are not to blame; the perpetrator is to blame.  If they are talking about and feeling self-blame you could say “it’s really hard when you are scared” or “leaving the party with him did not give him the right to rape you.”   

  6. Provide support without taking over.  Let her/him make their own decisions.  Part of recovery is taking back control over your life.  Share and give information but let them decide what they want to do. 

  7. Respect their feelings and privacy.  Don’t share with others what the survivor has told you.  Let her/him decide whom they will tell. 

  8. Take care of yourself.  It is important that you talk about your feelings and thoughts about what has happened, but the survivor is not the person you should do this with.  You can call the Advocacy Center to help you deal with these feelings.  24-Hour Hotline: 277-5000. 

Warning Signs

A sexual assault can cause more than just physical trauma.  A survivor can feel feelings of fear, loss of trust and safety, depression and isolation.  The following are possible indicators that someone may have been sexually assaulted.

  • A change in eating patterns
  • Restless, disturbed or altered sleep
  • Significantly decreased social behavior or cutting off previously close friends
  • Neglect of basic bodily needs such as eating regularly
  • Change in work or school performance
  • Emotional state- do they appear depressed?  Emotionally numb?  Angry?
If you are concerned about a friend, partner or family member you can call the Advocacy Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (607) 277-5000.   



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© 2006 The Advocacy Center
Office (Monday - Friday, 9-5): 607 277 3203, 24 Hour Hotline: 607 277 5000
P.O. Box 164 · Ithaca, New York 14851
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