Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Katy Karas
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Suggestions for talking with survivors of sexual assault

Therapeutic Services Agency


October 11, 2018

Because we do not ever want to speak an incorrect or insensitive word when someone confides in us that they have been sexually assaulted, we immediately become uncomfortable while saying very little, then usually the conversation ceases. For most all sexual assault survivors, disclosing their assault is often the most difficult memory or words they share. As a listener, one must be non-judgmental and listen with patience.

Along with giving the survivor the time and place to be safely heard, there are additional resources that can be helpful.

Things such as where to seek proper medical and mental health attention, how to reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline or what law enforcement agency is the best to contact can be helpful recommendations. Yet, the most important way to continually support a survivor is giving them time and place to talk.

Here are some specific phrases the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) recommends saying to show support for all survivor's stories and assist in their own healing process.

"It is not your fault. You didn't do or say anything to deserve this."

One of the most common emotions survivors of sexual assault feel is self-blame, especially if they personally know the perpetrator. Survivors may need continual reminders that they are NOT to be blamed, nor did they ask for what happened to them.

"You are not alone. I care about you and am here to listen as long as you need me. I will help in any way I can."

Remember, it is always difficult for a survivor to share their story. Honor their story by giving them your full time and uninterrupted attention. Remind them of professional services that are trained in assisting sexual assault survivors in the healing process.

"I believe you. It took a lot of courage to share this with me."

For many, it is extremely difficult to share their sexual assault story. They feel ashamed, embarrassed, unworthy, and that they will not be believed. Do not ask any "why" questions. Your job is to support the person as best you can. Keep in mind, every person responds to trauma differently. Your main purpose is to intently listen and believe what they share with you.

"I am sorry this has happened to you."

Honestly acknowledge that this event has greatly impacted their life. Phrases such as: "This must feel very overwhelming" or "This must feel unimaginable", will help to communicate empathy.

Continual support

There is absolutely no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. Remember, if someone trusted and confided in you by disclosing such a personal event, consider ways to show your continued support of their healing process.

• Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they're talking too long to heal such as "You just need to move on" or "You've been feeling this way too long."

• Check in periodically. The event may have happened some time ago, yet that does not mean their pain is erased. Call, email, or text to remind the survivor that you continue to care about their well-being and believe their story.

• Know your resources. You are a survivor advocate, yet that does not mean you're equipped to manage someone's physical or mental health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) and y en español at

• It may be helpful to contact your local sexual assault service provider for advice on medical care and state laws regarding sexual assault. If the survivor seeks medical attention or legal counsel, your presence may be the support they need.

• If someone you care about is talking of suicide, learn the warning signs and offer help and support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or (800) 272-TALK (8255) is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Whether an advocate for victims or a survivor of sexual assault, seeking professional mental health care is most always necessary.

Within central Minnesota, Therapeutic Services Agency, Inc. is a multi-faceted mental health agency that has been providing comprehensive services to our community for over 40 years. TSA has multiple offices offering adult, family and child therapy with mental health professionals trained to understand the complexities of sexual assault. Today, call 1-800-629-7600 and take that first step towards understanding there is professional assistance for you and your loved ones.

Katy Karas is on the staff of TSA and is a behavioral science writer with several years' experience in general psychology publishing. She is currently completing her Ph.D. in Marriage and Family therapy. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, loud music and attending farm auctions.


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