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How to Support a Survivor of Sexual Assault

Written By: Angela Mancuso, Executive Director

During April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is a focused time to EmPower Survivors by bringing awareness, promoting prevention, and inspiring change. We can all take action, and I’m writing to remind you that during SAAM and always, Your Voice Has Power.  

Even as we are social distancing, you can use your voice on social media to improve understanding of an issue that is far too prevalent, help dispel myths and stereotypes, and learn and share ways to support survivors. We have template posts and images you can use on our EmPower Survivors page. 

Sexual assault is pervasive in our community and affects people of all genders and all ages: 

  • Nearly one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape at some time in their lives. 
  • However, rape is the most under-reported crime – 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. 
  • Tragically, in Wisconsin, 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them. 

We often receive questions on how someone can support a friend or loved one who discloses assault or trauma to them. It can be very difficult for a survivor to share any part of their experience with others. If someone does make that difficult decision to come to you for support, the first and best thing you can do immediately is to start by believing them. You can’t take away what happened to someone, but you can listen to them, believe them, and be a source of comfort.  

Here are some things you can say to someone who has been impacted by domestic or sexual violence: 

  • “I believe you.” The most important thing to do when supporting a survivor is validate their experience. Let them know you believe them.
  • “It wasn’t your fault.” It is essential that a survivor understand they are not responsible for their assault or abuse. Be a supportive voice and remind them that they are not to blame. 
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.” Mindful language is key: let survivors know that what happened was unacceptable, and that you take their experience and feelings seriously. 
  • “Can I help?” Let survivors know you are there to support them without being forceful. This allows survivors power of choice on whether to seek out your help. 
  • “What do you need most right now?” Give the survivor space to decide what comes next; there is no single right or wrong way for a survivor to respond to an assault or abuse. 

It takes a lot of courage for a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault to share their story with anyone. Never underestimate the power you have to affect the course of a survivor’s healing journey. Our 24-Hour Hotline is available, always, at 262.542.3828.  

Please visit our EmPower Survivors page for more ways to show your support during SAAM. Thank you.