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If a survivor of sexual violence comes to you, what should you do?

19th October 2021

At Together for Girls, we believe that part of being a good friend means knowing what to say when and if a friend shares their experience of sexual violence with you. If a friend confided in you, would you know what to say? Read more about what to do—and not to do—so you’re equipped to respond in the best way possible.

The do’s and don’ts of talking to a survivor of sexual violence

Do:

  1. Accept survivors as they are and treat them with respect.
  2. Show them love, care and understanding by being an empathetic listener.
  3. Believe their story.
  4. Remind them that what happened was not their fault.
  5. Ensure confidentiality of your conversation.
  6. Create a safe, supportive and distraction-free environment for your conversation.
  7. Where appropriate, share that they can prevent HIV and unintended pregnancy if they take post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours and emergency contraception within 120 hours of the incident (though sooner is always better). Remind them that this can also be an opportunity to collect evidence – and that they can decide on legal action later.
  8. Help them access services when they are ready. Offer to accompany them if helpful.
  9. Offer to support them if they choose to document and follow up on their case with legal authorities.
  10. Reach out periodically after they disclose to you and remind them that you are here for them.

Don't:

  1. Doubt their story.
  2. Pass judgment.
  3. Pressure them to talk or press them for details.
  4. Tell them how to feel about the situation.
  5. Lecture them about what to do, or force them to go to the police or prosecute.
  6. Ask why they did (or did not) say no or fight back.
  7. Tell the survivor to “forget about it” or “keep quiet” and move on.
  8. Make light of the situation or compare their story to other issues or situations.
  9. Criticize them or blame them for the situation, by saying things such as, “You shouldn’t have been out alone at night.”
  10. Avoid them.

Know the facts about post-rape care

VACS data shows that up to 38 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys have experienced some form of sexual violence in childhood. Of these survivors, only about half ever tell someone about the experience—if they do, it’s most often a peer. An even smaller group seeks services, and very few actually receive services.

This means that friends can play a powerful role in connecting survivors to critical and timely care. Yet many people do not understand the importance of these services or the fact that, after a rape, every hour matters in preventing potentially lifelong health problems.

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Here are some facts about the short window of time available to access critical services:

  • HIV can be prevented if survivors receive life-saving medication within 72 hours.
  • Emergency contraception can help prevent a pregnancy if accessed within 120 hours.
  • Medical help for physical trauma may be urgently needed depending on the situation.

By responding appropriately when a survivor comes to you with their story, you help them feel heard and cared for, and can take action to safeguard their health and wellbeing. We need our friends, and our friends need us – so let’s take the first step in being a good friend.

Learn more about why Every Hour Matters when it comes to post-rape care.

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