December 7, 2023 Dec 07, 2023 6 min read
The following list is designed to help friends, partners, family members, and loved ones understand how to support survivors of sexual trauma. This list assumes that all immediate needs have already been met, such as emergency medical care and shelter.
For information on how to support someone in a crisis situation, check out our other article How to Support a Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted.
These ideas can be applied whether the person you’re supporting is a friend, partner, or family member.
The most important thing you can do for a survivor of sexual assault or abuse is believe them. In fact, being believed can actually drastically reduce the likelihood of developing long-term PTSD symptoms after a traumatic sexual experience.
Because many trauma survivors are surrounded by victim-blaming messages, it’s important to explicitly state the words “I believe you” when your loved one confides in you about what happened. It can also be helpful to remind your loved one of this from time to time, as feelings of guilt and shame can easily creep into a survivor’s thoughts and feelings.
If your loved one is struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, consider sharing the following articles with them:
We’d like to be able to share more of our resources and support with you.
Although not everyone will be ready to share about their feelings right away, be sure to provide a listening ear if and when your loved one needs it. Having a supportive network of friends and loved ones can help a survivor feel cared for and less alone as they navigate a complex and difficult time. Make sure that any conversations about trauma or abusive experiences happen on the survivor’s terms.
If your loved one is struggling with feeling isolated after a traumatic experience, considering sharing our article “How to Cope with Feeling Isolated During or After Abuse.”
Because dealing with sexual trauma is already a heavy burden, it’s important not to rely on a survivor for information, resources, or education about trauma and sexual abuse. Instead, do some of your own research on trauma and how it affects people.
To start, check out the following articles through Go Thrive Go:
Not only will this research help you better understand how to support your loved one, but it will also show through action how much you care.
Sexual trauma (and trauma of any kind) can drastically change the way someone is able to participate in their lives. This means that a survivor may struggle to enjoy the same kinds of social situations or activities they used to. For example, they might not be interested in listening to certain types of music or watching certain movies or TV shows. Whatever the case may be, be patient and flexible with a loved one who’s navigating sexual trauma, especially if and when their preferences conflict with your own.
It’s very important not to pressure someone who’s navigating sexual trauma. If you are in a romantic or sexual relationship with a trauma survivor, it is especially important never to place pressure or expectations on that person regarding sex or intimacy. Even if you’re just friends, do not pressure a survivor to date or socialize in ways that don’t feel comfortable for them.
Recovering from trauma is stressful and exhausting. As a result, many trauma survivors struggle with low energy or even depression, especially in the first few months following assault or abuse. To help your loved one feel less isolated during this time, make yourself available for low-impact activities such as watching movies together, going on walks, or crafting. Better yet – find out what types of low-impact activities your loved one really enjoys, and suggest time for doing those things together.
While respecting boundaries is always important, it’s especially important to respect the boundaries of someone recovering from sexual trauma. This could mean respecting the fact that your partner may not be interested in sex for the time being. This could also mean respecting the boundaries of a friend who does not want to discuss the details of their abuse or be reminded of the person who abused them.
To help your loved one feel supported in an ongoing way, check in with them from time to time about how they’re feeling. It’s easy for survivors to feel like they carry the burden of their trauma alone, but being reminded that friends and loved ones are thinking of them can help counteract this belief.
While your loved one may not always want to discuss their trauma, it can be helpful simply to say something like, “I know you’re dealing with a lot, and I just want you to know I’m thinking of you. Please remember that I’m always here for you.”
Above all, remember that each person is unique. The best way to understand what kind of support your loved one needs is to ask them directly. While it’s not always easy for trauma survivors to identify and vocalize their needs, being given the opportunity to speak about these things can help establish an atmosphere of safety and trust in your relationship.
If you are the partner of someone who has experienced sexual trauma, we highly recommend reading How to Navigate Sex After Sexual Trauma next.
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