Supporting a Victim

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
What to Say and What not to Say to a Survivor of Sexual Assault

When trying to support a sexual assault survivor, try not to be judgmental or take control (even when we know a lot about sexual assault, we bring our own values and prejudices to all situations). A sympathetic ear can go a long way towards aiding their recovery process.

The most important things you can communicate are
  • "I'm glad you're alive."
  • "It's not your fault."
  • "You did the best you could."
  • "I'm sorry this happened."
Also keep in mind the following guidelines
  • Be a good listener
  • Assist the survivor in getting the help he/she needs and wants. This may mean providing phone numbers, information, transportation, etc.
  • Express support. Sometimes standing close to the survivor and conveying feelings by touch can be very comforting. However, physical touch may be upsetting given the assault, so ask if you may hold their hand, touch their shoulder, etc. before doing so.

  • Reinforce that cooperation does NOT mean consent. (Many survivors feel guilty because they didn't fight back). Remind him/her that fear often immobilizes people.
  • Try to minimize the number of times the survivor must tell the story of the assault.
  • Assure the survivor that it was not his/her fault, and that no one asks to be or deserves to be raped.
    Help the survivor know that this experience will cause a disruption in his/her life, but they will recover.

  • Give advice or make decisions for the survivor. (Remember that it is important for the survivor to make his/her own decisions as a step toward regaining control and overcoming feelings of helplessness).

  • Tell the survivor what you would have done.
  • Ask them why he/she didn't scream, fight or run.
  • Prod for details of the assault.
  • Prevent the survivor from talking about the assault if he/she wants to.
  • Stare or make piercing eye contact.
  • Ask him/her if they did anything to "lead the attacker on".
  • Ask what the survivor was wearing.
  • Ask why he/she was walking alone at night.
  • Ask whether he/she was drinking.

Self-Help Resources

The Wellness Resource Lab, located on the 1st floor of the Wellness Recreation Center in Room 104, includes a resource library with many books, videos, cassettes, pamphlets and newsletters on a variety of health and wellness topics.  There is also a special section for Violence Intervention Resources .

Checking out materials is free and you may keep these materials for two weeks. 

If you have concerns about accessing materials from the Wellness Lab in person, please contact Violence Intervention Services staff member Mark Rowe-Barth to make confidential material check-out arrangements. 

If there is an accommodation you need in order to participate in a WRS program or activity, please contact WRC 101 at (319) 273-6275.


Human Dignity

We believe that all people, regardless of their differences, should treat each other with mutual respect and dignity. Diversity and individual rights will be honored and respected.