Supporting someone who's been raped

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Sexual violence
Supporting a friend or family member who's been raped or sexually assaulted is a difficult and emotional experience. We might be scared of causing offence or making the situation worse. But whatever our personal feelings, being there for her no matter what happens is crucial to her recovery process.

What you can do to help

  • The first thing to do is listen. Let her speak and don't interrupt. If she's not going into detail, don't push her for information. Let her take her time and be patient.
  • Don't ask too many questions - this may cause her to clam up and she might feel like you're blaming her. Be gentle and remember, she might not have the answers to your questions.
  • Always believe her. It takes a great deal of courage to admit you've been raped and even more courage to speak to someone about it. If you show signs that you don't believe her or deny it's happened it could put her off seeking professional help.
  • Respect her - let her speak about the more intimate details when she's ready. And while you may want to hug her, it's important to bear in mind she might not want to be touched or have any physical contact.
  • Stay calm - don't let your personal feelings or emotions affect her. Let her make the decisions, don't pressurise her to report it if she doesn't feel ready. Find out what her options are and carefully discuss them with her, giving her time and space if necessary to consider them.
  • Be organised for her - make sure you offer to go to any appointments with her and help organise them if she can't. If the case goes to court make sure she knows you'll be by her side each step of the way.
  • Be patient - it takes a long time to work through the physical and psychological experiences of rape and even if a long time has passed don't rush her or make her feel bad for being affected by it.
  • Get counselling yourself - supporting someone through this difficult time can be very harrowing on you. You have every right to have feelings and emotions about it yourself. There are plenty of organisations who can support and advise you including Victim Support. See our sexual violence helplines directory.

Because of the deep psychological damage caused by rape, sometimes a victim doesn't always come forward to ask for help. You may find that you suspect she's been (or is being) raped. It's then very difficult to know how to approach the subject with her.

Elizabeth has this advice: 'It's important to let her know she can talk to you when she's ready to do so but not to try to force her into talking before she's ready.

'Sometimes it can help to make a general comment as if you've read something in the news, like the 'Wake Up To Rape' report, and say clearly that you know these things happen and that you understand how hard it must be for a woman to say when it's happened to her, but you'd hope that your friends would be able to talk to you about this because you know it's never the woman's fault.'

Be sensitive and really think about what you'll say before you say it. Remember, if you don't know for definite that anything's happened, be cautious about how you approach the subject. It's important also to think about the reasons she might not have admitted it to you.

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If you're in any doubt as to how you can support someone who's been sexually assaulted, visit our sexual violence helplines directory to speak to an expert.

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