When someone close to you has been sexually assaulted
A sexual assault can have a devastating impact on you and on the family unit.
“I feel so helpless because I wasn’t able to protect … (him/her). I feel like I have let them down.”
“I want to help, but I don’t know what to do or say. I’m afraid of making it worse.”
You may experience some powerful emotions when you learn that someone close to you has been sexual assaulted. You may feel anger and sadness that this has happened to someone you care about. You may feel guilt that you were not able to do something to prevent the assault and you may feel confusion about what you can do to help.
It is important for partners, family and friends to be supportive and to help the person overcome the effects of the assault.
Understanding the sexual assault victim’s feelings
It is important for you to understand that a person who has been sexually assaulted may experience some or all of the following reactions:
- A feeling of being isolated and alone and out of touch with the rest of the world.
- A belief that no one understands what they are experiencing.
- Confusion or an inability to think clearly or to concentrate.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, stomach aches, loss of appetite, fatigue.
- Changes in sleeping patterns and experiencing nightmares.
- A feeling of being dirty.
- A sense of grief and loss.
- Emotional reactions such as shame, guilt, anger, rage, fear.
- Not being able to stop thinking about the assault.
- Feeling responsible for the assault.
- A change in the way they feel about sex.
- An unwillingness to be touched by anyone.
- Difficulty in trusting others.
- Feeling unsafe when alone.
- Feeling nervous and anxious.
- A lack of self-confidence.
How you can help
You can help by:
- believing them
- listening and allowing them the opportunity to talk about the event in their own time and in their own way
- not judging them
- spending time with them
- allowing them some private time
- reassuring them they are safe
- allowing them the opportunity to express their feelings
- not taking the person’s anger and feelings personally
- helping with some tasks such as minding the children or cooking, if this is what they want
- not saying things such as ‘lucky it wasn’t worse’ – people who have experienced a trauma are not consoled by these statements.
“I feel so awkward talking about something so personal, but I know …(he/she) needs my support.”
Your friend or family member may need help and support in redeveloping trust in the world around them. Building a new sense of trust and safety is one of the most difficult steps in recovering from sexual assault.
Their reaction to the sexual assault may be strong enough to lead to difficulties in your relationship. You may feel hurt and upset by the newfound distrust or detachment from you and angry that this situation has occurred at all. Try to be patient and gentle and understanding as they struggle to come to terms with the assault. Support their efforts to make changes and help to find the resources needed to cope with the experience.
You may also be affected and experiencing a range of emotions yourself, including:
- guilt – for not being able to prevent the assault or abuse
- wanting revenge
- anger – at the person, at the offender.
It can be just as important for you to seek support and to talk about your own feelings with a counsellor.
Where to get help
Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC)
- 24 hour emergency line for recent sexual assault – phone 9340 1828 or 1800 199 888 (free from land line only)
- Emergency telephone counselling between 8.30am and 11.00pm daily – phone 9340 1828
- In an emergency situation, go to the nearest hospital emergency department
- See your doctor
Sexual Assault Resource Centre
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.