What should I do if I learn or suspect a sexual assault has occurred?
If you perceive an immediate threat to the survivor’s safety, contact law enforcement. If the survivor needs emergency care, call 911. For non-emergency situations, help the survivor visit a medical provider. One of the most important things is to ensure the survivor is in a safe location that is away from the perpetrator. Offer to stay with the survivor and/or go with him or her to report the assault.
What should I do if I believe a child has been the victim of a sexual assault?
Do what is necessary to ensure the child’s safety and report the incident to local law enforcement. There are very specific things that occur in an investigation of child sexual assault.
How Do I Continue To Support A Survivor?
- Check in on them, but let them control the situation.
- If they seem overwhelmed or need more help than you can provide, let them know there is confidential and free help available.
- Help them create a safety plan (for example, what to do if the perpetrator contacts them again, lives with them, or threatens them).
- Never respond with criticism or judgment. Let them know you believe what they tell you.
- Be patient. It is a long road to recovery and to regain any sense of normalcy.
- Reassure them that this incident is not their fault and do not assign any blame.
- Acknowledge that this is a hard time.
- When necessary, respect their privacy. Unless you perceive an emergency or believe they are at risk, do not tell others about the assault if they do not want you to.
- Encourage them to seek medical and/or mental health help.
What Do I Say?
- Do not ask questions about details of the assault. Questions should be limited to safety and health-related issues. Remind them that what happened is not their fault.
- “What happened to you was wrong.”
- “This is not your fault.”
- “I’m here to listen if you ever need to talk.”
What do I do if the survivor does not want to report the assault?
It is common for survivors to have reservations about reporting an assault. Many people feel that if they do not talk about it or ignore it, the pain will go away. Other times, the reservations are more serious. The perpetrator may have threatened to hurt them (or someone else) if they tell the police or other authority.
Survivors may also feel that they are to blame. If drugs or alcohol were involved, they may be worried about the consequences or perception by family, friends, or law enforcement. The perpetrator may be someone they know and trust, and they are concerned about the impact reporting may have on their lives and those around them. They may also be confused about the reporting process.
It is important to gently encourage them to report. What happened to them may happen again. If they choose not to report the incident, make written notes of what they told you about the incident in case you need to remember the details at a later date.
Keep in mind that, absent a specific legal obligation, it is not your job to report the incident.
If the survivor is under 18, please refer to the child abuse reporting laws in Texas.
But isn’t it my job to “fix” them?
Remember that you cannot rescue or save them. Take time to recognize that you too will have feelings and that while you may empathize, you do not know how they feel and are not properly equipped to help them work through the issues related to their experience. Leave that to trained professionals. Remember that it is not your fault. Recognize the process is just that—a process—and it may take time to navigate.