Content warning: sexual assault
In the United States, one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
These men and women may be your coworkers, your siblings, your classmates, or even your best friends. If they trust you enough to open up about the terrible act of sexual assault committed against them, it can be hard to know what to say and how to assist them. In order to help them with their healing process, it is crucial to remember a few things.
First things first: they trust you. These victims would not open up about such awful experiences if they didn't think you were able to help them heal in some way. With this being said, keep an open mind and attentively listen to what they have to say.
Don't interrupt them, and don't dismiss their feelings. Listen to everything they have to say until the very end... and then some. Acknowledge their voice and make sure they know that their story is important.
Survivors of sexual assault are exhausted from opening up to people who don't respond with an open heart, so give them every inch of support you have.
Do not override their feelings and experiences with your own. This is a time to hear their story, not yours. If you mention your own experiences, make sure to do it in a way that doesn't undermine theirs.
They want you to hear their voice and curving their trauma experiences only makes it seem like what happened to them doesn't matter in the big scheme of things.
When talking to a survivor of sexual assault, there are certain things to say and certain things not to say. Giving advice and support can start the healing process, but sometimes the advice we give doesn't always come across the way we intend it to.
Saying phrases like, "You'll be OK," or "You'll heal with time," may seem like words of comfort, but for someone who has just experienced trauma, it can feel very insensitive. Although you believe in them and want them to be OK, they may not feel okay at the time. They may not feel OK ever again. What happened to them is real, and causes long term repercussions.
If someone opens up to you about their sexual assault experience, keep your ears open and your heart accessible. They aren't wanting you to fix them, they're wanting you to hear them.
And that is just enough.