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December 7, 2023 Dec 07, 2023 11 min read

How to Support a Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted


  • When someone opens up to you about having been sexually assaulted, the most important thing to do is believe them
  • Depending on the circumstances, you might also want to offer to accompany the victim to the hopsital for medical attention or to receive a rape kit exam
  • Once any immediate needs have been taken care of, ask your friend or loved one what would help them feel most supported and orient around their preferences
  • Prioritize listening and being present
  • Respect the victim’s privacy by not prying into the details of their story and not sharing their story with others
  • Finally, be patient and mindful of your loved one’s boundaries and limitations, and continue checking in with them over time as they navigate their healing process

If a loved one shares with you that they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, it’s easy to feel shocked, heartbroken, or overwhelmed. You want to support them in whatever way you can, but you might not have any idea how to do that. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 10 simple ways to effectively support survivors of sexual assault in your life, especially when those people are close friends, family members, or partners.


Before we dive into the list, remember that victims of sexual assault usually only confide in people they truly trust. So, consider thanking the person for sharing their vulnerable truth with you and acknowledge the fact that it’s difficult and painful to be honest about sexual abuse. In a way, having someone confide in you about a traumatic experience is an honor, and the experience should be treated with deep respect and care.

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10 Ways to Support Sexual Assault Survivors

1. Believe them

The most important thing to do when a survivor first opens up to you about their assault is to believe them. You might even want to say the words “I believe you” to make sure they know where you stand.


Do not approach them with suspicion or skepticism. It’s extremely rare for people to lie about having been sexually assaulted, especially to trusted friends and confidants, and being met with skepticism would most likely dissuade that person from turning to you for further support.


Studies have shown that believing victims and offering affirming social support in the immediate wake of an assault can drastically reduce the risk for post-traumatic stress.

2. Remind them it’s not their fault

Another way to offer effective social support to an assault victim is to remind them that what happened to them was not their fault. Many victims struggle with feelings of guilt or shame after sexual assault, so it can be extremely helpful to offer gentle reminders that assault victims are never to blame for what happens to them.


Some victims might feel the need to assess what they were wearing, doing, or consuming at the time of an assault to try to “make sense” of what happened or figure out how to prevent further violence in the future. This can be a great time to remind your loved one that there is unfortunately no secret formula for avoiding sexual assault, and that regardless of what they were doing or wearing, it wasn’t their fault.

3. Offer to go with them to the hospital or police station

Depending on how long it’s been since the assault took place, consider offering to accompany your friend or loved one to a hospital for medical assistance. Seeking medical assistance in the wake of an assault is very important, especially if the assault was violent in nature and/or if the victim was raped and is concerned about pregnancy or STIs. If the assault happened within just a few days, you should also recommend that your loved one get a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE), otherwise known as a rape kit exam. To learn more about rape kit exams, check out the following articles:

If your loved one expresses interest in reporting their assault to the police, you can offer to help by giving them a ride to the police station or simply being with them while they make their report. However, reporting is not required – especially not right away – so if the victim is not interested in doing this, do not pressure them. To learn more about how to support someone through the process of reporting, check out our article “Where, When, and How to Report Sexual Assault or Rape.”

4. Ask how they want to be supported

Although there are several tried-and-true ways to support sexual assault survivors across the board, your friend or loved one will most likely have some of their own preferences, needs, or wishes about how they want to be supported. It’s a good idea to simply ask them, “How can I best support you in this difficult time?” or, “What kind of support would feel best for you right now?”


That said, it can sometimes be difficult for trauma survivors to identify or articulate their needs or desires, so you might find it helpful to ask more specific questions. For example, you could ask, “Would it be helpful if I made you dinner so that you can rest?” or, “Would you like me to draw you a bath?” or, “Can I research which hospitals nearby offer rape kit exams so you don’t have to?” Answering yes-or-no questions is often easier for trauma survivors than giving long-form answers or coming up with ideas on the spot.


If your loved on wants support finding sexual assault services nearby, use the Go Thrive Go services database to find the resources they need.

5. Listen and be present

Experiencing sexual violence often leaves victims feeling alone, misunderstood, and disconnected from the rest of the world. Being present and offering a listening ear is a great way to offer support.


While some victims may want to share about the specifics of what happened to them, others may not. In a support role, it’s important not to pry or encourage a victim to share more than they’re comfortable with. Trust that your friend or loved one will share with you at their own pace. Simply being with them and letting them know they’re not alone will go a long way.


Being present with your loved one could also look like doing low-impact activities together, such as watching movies or TV, eating food, or going on gentle walks.

6. Respect their privacy

Along with not prying into details that the victim may not want to share, it’s also important to remember that victims of sexual assault deserve to decide who gets to hear their story and when. If a friend or loved one confides in you about being sexually assaulted, do not tell other people without the victim’s permission.


The only exception to this is if the person opening up to you about their assault is a minor. If you have a duty to report (for example, if you are a teacher, doctor, or social worker), then you are legally obligated to report the assault to the relevant authorities in your area. Keep in mind that all Canadian adults have a duty to report according to child welfare laws.

7. Be patient and mindful of boundaries

Recovering from sexual trauma can be a long and difficult process. As a result, it’s important for friends and loved ones of sexual assault survivors to be patient with the victim’s healing process. Many victims find that their preferences, activities, energy levels, and capacities change after experiencing assault. If you’re feeling frustrated that your friend or loved one isn’t acting like their same old self or isn’t up for doing all the things they used to enjoy doing, be patient and do not pressure them to push past their boundaries. This especially applies to anything having to do with sex, dating, or being in situations that could remind the victim of their assault.

8. Familiarize yourself with potential triggers

A common pop-psychology buzzword, “triggers” are actually adaptive fear responses acquired through traumatic experiences. Put simply, triggers are the nervous system’s way of alerting us to potential dangers. 


The vast majority of sexual assault survivors experience triggers specifically related to the circumstances of their assault. While everyone’s triggers are a bit different, it’s common for sexual assault survivors to feel especially uncomfortable or distressed around conversations, jokes, or media about sexual violence, for example. As someone in a support role to a victim of sexual assault, you can help by becoming familiar with the topics, places, people, and other things that might trigger your loved ones fear response.


9. Check in

Because the process of recovering from sexual trauma can last a long time, it’s important to continue checking in with your friend or loved one over time. While some survivors might experience a surge of support from people in their lives in the immediate wake of an assault, many find that support tapers off fairly quickly. 


If you have a friend who is recovering from sexual assault, call or message them every so often to ask how they’re feeling, if they could use any company, or if there’s anything else you could do to support them.


10. Do your own research

Finally, one of the best things anyone can do to support a sexual trauma survivor is to educate themselves on how sexual trauma affects the brain and body. Survivors of sexual assault often struggle with feeling alone and misunderstood even if they’re surrounded by community, because trauma changes the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. 


Instead of relying solely on your loved one to explain their experiences and struggles to you, consider acquiring some books or other resources that can help you understand what it might be like to navigate the process of healing from sexual assault. Knowing that you have put an effort into understanding their experiences will almost certainly help your loved one feel cared for and supported.


A great place to start is by reading our articles “The Science of Sexual Trauma: Why We Struggle to Trust” and “Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Sexual Assault and Abuse.”


While supporting a loved one who has been sexually assaulted is a complex process, approaching it with openness, compassion, and a willingness to learn and adapt is a sure way to provide meaningful and effective support. Every survivor has a different set of needs and preferences, so listen to your loved one to find out what they need and how you can help. When in doubt, remember that sexual assault victims are the experts of their own experiences and deserve to have their needs, capacities, and boundaries prioritized and respected.

Summary :

The process of supporting someone who has been sexually assaulted starts with addressing immediate, urgent needs. If your loved one is in need of medical assistance, for example, prioritize helping them access this first. If your loved one is interested in reporting their assault to the police, accompanying them through this process is also a great way to offer support. After immediate needs have been addressed, the keys to providing effective support to sexual assault survivors are openness and presence. Let your loved one know that you believe them, that they’re not at fault, and that they’re not alone. Find out what would feel supportive to them and let them know that you are there to help. Offering support can look like keeping your loved one company, cooking them a nice meal, helping them with chores around the house, going for walks together, watching comforting movies or TV shows together, etc. At the end of the day, your loved one is your most valuable source of information for figuring out exactly how to offer them support. To bolster your understanding, consider acquiring books and other resources about how sexual trauma affects the brain and body.

Author Bio :

 Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work.





Government of Newfoundland & Labrador Violence Prevention Initiative –


“Preventing Posttraumatic Stress Related to Sexual Assault Through Early Intervention: A Systematic Review,” Trauma Violence Abuse, 2018 – 

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