Protecting Your Friends and How to Respond to a Survivor

i_might_not_be_the-112194

You have a crucial role to play in keeping your friends safe. No matter what the setting, if you see something that doesn’t feel quite right or see someone who might be in trouble, there are some simple things you can do to help out a friend.

Distract. If you see a friend in a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, create a distraction
to get your friend to safety. This can be as simple as joining or redirecting the conversation: suggest to your friend that you leave the party, or ask them to walk you home. Try asking questions like: “Do you want to head to the bathroom with me?” or “Do you want to head to another party – or grab pizza?”

Step in. If you see someone who looks uncomfortable or is at risk, step in. If you feel
safe, find a way to de-escalate the situation and separate all parties involved. Don’t be shy
about directly asking the person if they need help or if they feel uncomfortable.

Enlist others. You don’t have to go it alone. Call in friends or other people in the area
as reinforcements to help defuse a dangerous situation and get the at-risk person home safely. There is safety in numbers.

Keep an eye out. Use your eyes and ears to observe your surroundings. If you
see someone who has had too much to drink or could be vulnerable, try to get them to a safe place. Enlist friends to help you. Even if you weren’t around when the assault occurred, you can still support a friend in the aftermath.

How to Respond to a Survivor

When someone you care about tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, it can be a lot to handle. A supportive reaction can make all the difference, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Encouraging words and phrases avoid judgment and show support for the survivor. Consider these phrases:

  1. “I’m sorry this happened.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
  2. “It’s not your fault.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
  3. “I believe you.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
  4. “You are not alone.” Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they recover from the experience.
  5. “Are you open to seeking medical attention?” The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information. It’s ok to ask directly, “Are you open to seeking medical care?”
  6. “You can trust me.” If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Always ask the survivor before you share their story with others. If a minor discloses a situation of sexual abuse, you are required in most situations to report the crime. Let the minor know that you have to tell another adult, and ask them if they’d like to be involved.
  7. “This doesn’t change how I think of you.” Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.

Continued Support
There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event, consider the following ways to show your continued support.

  • Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
  • Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”
  • Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.
  • Know your resources You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, like the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.

survivor

 

Advertisements

Partner Rape

Partner Rape is defined as sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will when the perpetrator is the individual’s current partner (married or not), previous partner, or co-habitator.

3 types of Partner Rape:
  1. Battering rape– the experience of both physical and sexual violence within a relationship. Some may experience physical abuse during the sexual assault. Others may experience sexual assault after a physical assault as an attempt to “make up.”
  2. Force-only rape– motivated by a perpetrator’s need to demonstrate power and maintain control. Therefore, he/she asserts his/her feelings of entitlement over his/her partner in the form of forced sexual contact.
  3. Obsessive/Sadistic rape– involves torture and perverse sexual acts. Such rape is characteristically violent and often leads to physical injury.

Emotional & Physical Reactions:

Physical:
  • Injuries to the vaginal and anal areas
  • Lacerations
  • Soreness
  • Bruising
  • Torn muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Broken bones
  • Black eyes
  • Injuries caused by weapons
  • Miscarriages
  • Stillbirths
  • Contraction of STIs , including HIV
Emotional:

Research indicates that survivors of partner rape are more likely to be raped multiple times when compared to stranger and acquaintance rape survivors. As such, partner rape survivors are more likely to suffer severe and long-lasting physical and psychological injuries.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

Reference:
This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Acquaintance Rape

two-thirds-stat copy

Definition:

Acquaintance assault involves coercive sexual activities that occur against a person’s will by means of force, violence, duress, or fear of bodily injury. These sexual activities are imposed upon them by someone they know (a friend, date, acquaintance, etc.).

Key Reminders:

  • A prior or current relationship or previous acts of intimacy are insufficient indicators of consent.
  • Verbal consent must be obtained both in each instance of sexual intimacy and as the level of sexual intimacy increases (e.g., moving from kissing to petting, from petting to oral sex, from oral sex to intercourse or anal sex, etc.).
  • Like other forms of sexual assault, acquaintance assault is motivated by a need to control, to humiliate, and to harm.

Obstacles to Coping & Recovery:

  • Common social myths (e.g. the attack was incited through suggestive dress or intimate acts such as kissing)
  • Fear of:
    1. Retaliation
    2. Subsequent harassment
    3. Future harm
    4. Harassment from family and friends of the person responsible for the assault
  • Returning to a normal routine (this is especially the case if the assailant is a part of the victim’s daily routine)
  • Family/friends may blame the survivor, or, worse, they may support the assailant.

NOTE: Despite the violation and reality of physical and emotional trauma, victims of acquaintance assault often do not identify their experience as sexual assault. Instead of focusing on the violation of the sexual assault, victims of acquaintance rape often blame themselves for the assault.

Physical & Emotional Reactions:

  • Sleeping and eating disturbances
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of humiliation and self-blame
  • Nightmares
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation/behavior, self-harm
  • Depression

Continued Trauma:

Because the perpetrators are known to their victims and are often someone with whom they socialize, victims of acquaintance sexual assault often have to encounter their assailants after the rape. Fear of such encounters can cause increased distress and humiliation for the victims.

Prevention:

In order to prevent acquaintance sexual assault we all need to be aware of the three stages of acquaintance rape so that, whenever possible, we can avoid or prevent such an event from occurring.

Three Stages of Acquaintance Rape:

  1. Intrusion- Attempt by the offender to violate the victim’s personal space and level of comfort. May draw close by revealing personal information or through “accidental” touches and stares.
  2. Desensitization- Occurs when the victim feels comfortable with the offender and has come to regard intrusive actions as no longer or, at least less, threatening. The victim of the desensitization may feel uneasy but convinces himself or herself that the feeling is unfounded.
  3. Isolation- The offender uses the victim’s trust to isolate him or her from others.

Social Norms:

Social norms put pressure on many of us to be polite and passive. Relying on these norms, many victims of such assaults may suppress feelings of fear and discomfort in an attempt not to offend. Acquaintance assault prevention demands that we set aside such social norms and listen to our instinctual sense of fear and discomfort.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.