How to talk to someone when they open up to you about sexual assault?

Posted on : June 6, 2022 by Clinic One Team on Psychology


Trigger Warning: This article contains information about sexual assault and may be disturbing to some readers.


Sexual assault is quite prevalent in Nepal. Statistics show that cases of rape have been increasing every day by 20 percent and on average, seven women or girls are raped daily in Nepal. (ref: https://worecnepal.org/content/236/2021-04-07 ).


Sexual assault can be classified as several forms of intentional sexual contact toward another person without the permission or consent* of that individual. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562915/)

It is possible that someone in your life may have experienced sexual assault in the past. Therefore it is important to understand how to best speak with them during this time and make sure they feel supported.



Here are some things to keep in mind while talking to someone when they open up to you about sexual assault:



1. Thank them for sharing their experience with you

It can be extremely difficult to open up about being sexually assaulted.

Saying “Thank you for placing your trust in me and sharing this,” will help them feel more comfortable sharing with you without feeling judged for it.



2. Validate their feelings

When someone experiences sexual assault they may feel a lot of shame or guilt for what they have experienced.

They may also feel that they partly play a role in the occurrence of the incident. During this time it is essential to validate their experience by saying, “ I am sorry that you went through that, I am here to support you in any way that you need.”

In case they are feeling it is their fault, follow up by saying, “This is not your fault and you played no part in making this happen.” This will help acknowledge their experience as true and show your support for them.



3. Do not pressure them to take action

Due to the shame associated with getting sexually assaulted, talking about it with people close to them can be difficult enough.

Pressuring them to confront their perpetrator or legally report the incident should solely be their own decision.

It can be very emotionally taxing to go through this long process and sometimes there are no consequences for perpetrators even after reporting the incident.

Forcing them or reporting the incident for them can place more mental and emotional pressure on them and they may lose trust in you.

Keeping this in mind, it is also essential to understand that if they do want to take action, your support is needed and can greatly help decrease their stress as they won’t be dealing with the process alone.



4. Try to stay calm and collected when they tell you

We are likely to feel angry and upset when someone close to us shares that they have been sexually assaulted.

It hurts us that they experienced this and we may also wish we could have done something to have prevented that from happening but we need to try our best to stay calm.

If we become angry, we are unknowingly taking the attention off the person sharing the incident with us and making it about ourselves.

Our only purpose during this time should be to support them and not add to their emotional unrest by becoming upset.



5. Allow them to feel confused

They are likely to feel confused and parts of the assault they have experienced may not be clear in their memory.

This is a psychological response by our mind to push away extremely painful and negative experiences.

Allow them to feel confused during this time by saying, “It is okay to feel confused. If I can do anything to help you make sense of this please let me know.”



6. Allow them to take their time to process what has happened

Try to understand things that may trigger them back to their past trauma.

When something reminds them of their past trauma and sexual assault, they may feel similar emotions they felt during the time of the incident which can be extremely uncomfortable.

Understanding their triggers and making sure we don’t play a role in bringing them up is important.



7. Support them in seeking professional help

Seeking professional help such as seeing a Psychologist or Psychiatrist can help them heal from their past.

Healing is defined as processing your emotions and being able to move on from past trauma over a period of time.

It can take someone years to heal from their past and sometimes they may never be able to move on. Psychotherapy can help aid the process of healing.

It is important to not place any pressure on someone to visit a mental health professional, but if they are willing, encourage them to seek professional help.

There are a lot of stigmas around asking for help and saying, “Seeking professional help is okay and if that is something you want to try, I will support you during the process,” can help decrease this stigma.



Disclaimer: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 100 or go to the nearest emergency room.


Author Bio: Afshan Goswami is a University student studying BSc in Psychology at the University of Calgary. Her areas of interest include developmental and behavioral psychology which is what she will be pursuing her Master’s degree in as well.


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