When It Happens to a Friend

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

You probably know someone who’s been a victim of sexual assault.

It’s an unsettling thought, yes, but the statistics bear it out. Somewhere between 17 and 28 percent of women* have been victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. According to those same sources, the numbers range from 3 to 17 percent for men.* They increase further for members of particular populations or communities, including Native American and Alaskan women; gay, lesbian, and queer folk; people with disabilities; and trans* people.


There are many ways you can support a friend who has been sexually assaulted.


Nearly every victim, every survivor, has a first person they tell — someone they confide in to help make sense of what happened, to help begin the healing process. Unfortunately, I know too well that sometimes the first person told only compounds the hurt. So I’m writing this based on what I wish people had done for me.

How should you respond if a sexual assault survivor reaches out to you?

Believe the survivor. We live in a culture that regularly disbelieves, minimizes, and judges victims of sexual assault. Additionally, there’s a strong chance that the victim knew the attacker before the assault — and a reasonable chance that both are members of a mutual social circle or community. In this light, it can be incredibly stressful for a survivor to speak up about an assault. Simply telling that person, “I believe you,” can offer immense support and relief.

Don’t second guess the decisions a survivor made before the assault or the reactions your friend experienced during or afterward. Continue reading