Did you know that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime?  Or that 15% of all sexual assault victims are boys under the age of 16?

The chances are that you know someone who has been sexually abused. Though most cases go unreported to the police, victims often tell someone close to them what happened. It is imperative that you prepare yourself so that if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of that horrible and tragic news, you don’t accidentally make things worse. It’s crucial that everyone learns how to — and how NOT to — respond when someone tells them about their experience.

1: DO NOT respond with disbelief.

Only an estimated 2-4% of reports are false accounts. So if someone has worked up the courage to tell you what happened, the chances are that they are telling the truth. If someone said that their car had been stolen, or that they were robbed, you would certainly believe them. Victims of sexual assault should be extended the same respect.

2: DO NOT blame them.

It cannot be repeated enough: sexual assault victims are NEVER to blame. There is no circumstance where they deserved it, or it was their fault. Be careful when you ask questions about the incident. Questions like, “why didn’t you fight back?” or “what were you wearing?” are not helpful at all, and these factors are never a reason for someone to be abused in the first place. These type of questions will instead seem to shift blame onto the victim. The blame can only rest on the perpetrator, never the victim.

3: DO NOT try to suppress the incident.

You might want to shield the victim from the negativity that can arise from other people hearing about the attack. This is a normal response. However, when you try to do this by telling the victim to keep quiet or to not report it, you are responding negatively. You need to empower the survivor, and part of this is letting them decide whether or not to press charges or tell their story.

4: DO NOT treat them differently.

Do not act as if they are damaged, broken or somehow less of a person than they were before. Do not avoid them. Survivors need a strong and consistent support system. If you’re unsure how to act around them, or what you can do to help, just ask! The most important thing is that you love them and continue to be there for them.

5: DO NOT downplay the event.

Something tragic happened, and it’s not something they can just ‘get over’. Telling them that they “don’t need to seek counselling” or that they are “overreacting”, this will only serve to minimize the event. Sexual violence can lead to PTSD and should be taken very seriously.

If someone confides in you, avoid reacting in any of the ways listed above, this way you can help them have a helpful and healing disclosure experience. Being sensitive is one of the ways you can help break down rape culture and make survivors feel more comfortable sharing their experience. Healing is a slow process, but you can be a part of it!

To help survivors get the help they need, find even more resources here.