It can feel like a big responsibility to support someone who has experienced sexual abuse, and you might be worried about saying the wrong thing.

But by being there for them and listening with kindness and without judgment, you are already helping.

Everyone’s experience and process of overcoming abuse is different, but we have some information to guide you:

  • DO listen, without interrupting. Acknowledge that this would have been extremely difficult for them to bring up. Coming to terms with an experience of sexual violence is hard enough in itself, which is why it often takes people a long time to talk about what happened to them.
  • DO believe them. People rarely lie about rape, sexual abuse, or other forms of sexual violence. The fear of not being believed is a huge concern for victims and survivors, and this can stop them from telling anyone else or seeking help.
  • DO respect their privacy. If someone has told you about their experience, they have trusted you with this information. Do not tell anyone else without their permission.
  • DON’T place any blame on them. The responsibility, blame, and shame that arises from sexual violence lies completely within the perpetrator, and there is never any excuse or justification.
  • DON’T try to ‘fix’ things or take control of the situation. Sexual violence can leave an individual feeling powerless, so it is important not to further encroach on this, and ensure they are the one in charge and making decisions for themselves.
  • DON’T judge them. It doesn’t matter where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, or what they were wearing; it has nothing to do with what happened to them
  • DON’T ask why they didn’t say anything sooner, or pressure them to report it to the police. There are plenty of reasons why they might not have mentioned what happened to them sooner, or why they might not want to file a police report, but survivors and victims of sexual violence don’t owe anyone an explanation.
  • DON’T question them or push them to tell you any more than they have. Don’t ask why they didn’t fight back or if they tried to run away. They should not have to relive the experience for the sake of curiosity.
  • DO be patient. Sexual violence can affect everyone differently, and impact different areas of your life and wellbeing.
  • DO help them work through their feelings, and encourage them to explore their options, such as seeking support from us.

If you are concerned for someone’s safety

It is important not to speculate, and not to assume that you know what is going on in someone else’s life. But if you are concerned for the safety of another, there are ways you can help.

Try to speak to them privately. In some circumstances of sexual abuse, often in cases of domestic and child sexual abuse for example, the victim or survivor may deny it or lie out of fear for their own safety or someone else’s, or because they have been manipulated into staying silent.

Do not pressure them, or make them uncomfortable, but assure them that you are there to listen if they need it, and that there are helplines they can contact discreetly.

Remember to look after yourself

Supporting someone who has experienced sexual violence can only go so far without professional help, and there is only so much mental space we have to listen to other people’s trauma, especially if it is triggering and sensitive to your own experiences. At SAND we also offer support for non-offending family members.