March 27, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- Rape affects not just the victim but also her, or his, friends and family. The path to healing may be different for each person touched by the crime. Experts suggest that all those affected seek individual counseling, usually offered free of charge by rape crisis centers.
If you have a spouse, friend, or other family member who has been raped, here are some ways you can help:
- Believe the person.
- Reassure the survivor that you love them, that their feelings are normal, and that you know the assault was not their fault.
- Encourage the survivor to make their own decisions and support them whether or not you agree. This helps lessen their feelings of powerlessness and strengthens their ability to regain a sense of control over their lives.
- Don't underestimate their pain.
- Encourage, but don't force, talk. Don't probe for details. Be patient and ready to listen.
- Validate their feelings and behavior. Reassure them that only they could know what to do in the situation and that their reactions were appropriate. Whatever they did to survive the assault was the right thing to do.
- Show affection, but understand that the survivor may avoid physical contact. Again, be patient and understanding and don't take any physical withdrawal personally.
- Make sure they understand the importance of getting medical attention. Also insure that a supportive friend or relative and a rape crisis advocate are with them during medical and legal proceedings.
- Respect their confidentiality.
- Take care of yourself. Whatever your relationship to the survivor, it is natural for those around them to experience their own reactions to the trauma. Confidential counseling and support is available for you as well.
Jolie Ann Bales is an attorney based in Berkeley, Calif. She has written for a number of legal and business publications.