It can be very hard, especially when it's someone close to you, such as a child, but try to remain calm and understanding. If the person thinks it is upsetting you or making you angry, they may shut down and stop sharing.
You may be curious or you may be worried about other people's safety, but don't ask for any details the person isn't already willingly sharing. Being forced to recount details of the assault takes them right back to that moment and it causes them unnecessary pain and harm.
By asking open ended questions, such as "how did that make you feel?" or "are you comfortable telling me more?" or by showing active listening through nodding, uhm-hms and paraphrasing, you can help the person feel heard.
Many people who have experienced sexual violence are already consumed with self-blame and shame. Avoid "why" questions, such as "why were you with him?" or "why were you at the party?" which only creates more blame. Yes, some actions may REDUCE our risk for certain kinds of assaults, but with 85% of assaults being perpetrated by people that are known to the victim, prevention techniques don't work and should never be used to blame someone. Whoever commits the crime is the person responsible for the crime. Period.
If the person is over 18 years, the choice to report is theirs. There are social and emotional consequences to reporting, so never force or coerce someone to report.
If the person is under 18, there is a legal obligation to report to police or child protection. If the person is 14 years or older, we recommend contacting the police.
Each person reacts and is impacted by sexual violence in different ways, depending on factors related to childhood, personality, existing supports, etc. ANYTHING they are feeling and thinking is normal and that's what they need to hear. Grief, self-blame, anger, physical pain, fatigue, denial and numbness are all very common. These are signs that the brain has experienced a traumatic event and is trying makes sense of and recover from what has happened.
Traumatic events have very real physical impacts on the brain, like how a fall can cause a broken leg. People aren't always able to "pick themselves up and carry on" if the "break" in the brain doesn't heal properly (think of counselling and other supports like a cast on the broken leg to help it heal straight). Normalize hopelessness, sadness, body pain, anxiety and insomnia and encourage them to consider support.
The Regina and Area Sexual Assault Centre offers free therapeutic counselling by qualified and experienced counsellors who specialize in sexual violence. Counsellors are qualified to see children ages 5 years and up, as well as adults. Counselling is at the client's pace and when they are ready. Counsellors are ready and willing to collaborate to bring in traditional healing practices, elders, alternative approaches that the client feels may be helpful.
The responsibility lies with the person who chose to ignore hesitation or the word NO, or who drugged, coerced, threatened or groomed the person who has experienced the violence. It is TIME to put the blame where it belongs.