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Frequently Asked Questions

  • A loved one has been raped...What do I do?

The divorce rate among sexual assault survivors is extremely high. Often the significant other has grown up with preconceived notions (myths) about rape and cannot deal with the fact that someone else has "had" their spouse, even against the survivor's will. When the survivor has post-rape sexual problems, the significant other may interpret unwillingness or inability to have a normal sexual relationship as a rejection. Also, a sexual assault might bring other family problems to the surface. Advocates must address the problem of working with significant others of survivors. Significant others might make the situation more painful if not informed about what has happened.

How does sexual assault affect people - either the primary or secondary victims of this crime? How can those closest to a survivor do "the right thing?" It is those closest to a survivor who will influence how well the recovery process proceeds.

People who have been sexually assaulted may not react to the sexual aspects of the crime, but instead react to the terror and fear experienced. One reaction of the survivor could be, "I could have been killed." One way to explain this feeling is to ask the significant other to remember or imagine a situation in which they felt powerless and afraid. Ask them if they felt alone, fearful, and needing comfort.

The goal of crisis intervention with relatives and close friends is twofold:

  • First, to assist with their own feelings about sexual assault and the effect it might have in their relationship with the survivor. Second, to assist the family and friends in giving support.


  • Sexual assault is an emotionally charged situation surrounding the family immediately after the rape. Some of the reactions you might expect from friends and will include (but is not limited to):

    • Distress that the survivor has been injured

    • Anger at the offender that might be taken out on the survivor

    • Anger that the survivor didn't "fight harder"

    • Anger that the person hadn't been "careful" enough

    • Feelings of revenge on the offender

    • Feelings of guilt that they were not there to protect the survivor

    • Sense of loss for themselves for the survivor or for the family

  • Listen to what the partner, father, and other family members are saying. As they express their feelings they will be better able to help the survivor express theirs. Provide accurate information and encouragement - give them permission to react to this crisis, also. Friends and family may have a difficult time talking about sexual assault. The advocate can be a safe place to discuss their concerns and vent their feelings.


  • When you've had a chance to listen to what has been said, you can give the family some concrete information about what the sexual assault represents to the survivor. First, the significant other and family should know that the threat of death or injury was uppermost in her/his mind - not the sexual episode. Second, you should try to dispel myths about rape that the family may have grown up with, i.e., "If she didn't fight back, she must have wanted it." The third thing you want to stress is that, since this is a mutual crisis, they should support one another. The family can support their loved one by providing a place to share feelings without condemnation and by assisting in mobilizing the survivor's coping skills. The survivor should be allowed, not forced to express their emotions.


  • Questions about how they feel now and what bothers them the most are useful. They are not threatening and should allow them to talk about the most immediate concerns. Remember, too, the survivor wants to talk about other things. Often the sexual assault may leave them concentrating on other problems and it is important to talk about these. Probably the most practical suggestion is that you communicate your own willingness to let the survivor talk. Because of your closeness to them, the survivor may be more sensitive to your feelings. If you are distressed, it may be  impossible to talk to you. They may also try to protect you. In these and other cases, where they really will not be able
    to talk to you, encourage speaking with someone trusted. Remember that the sexual assault has brought up feelings of powerlessness. Encouraging them to talk to whom they want, when they want, is more helpful than feeling it is necessary to talk to you.


  • In the case of a virgin, female support may seem most important. It is a good time to discuss the pleasure involved in sex, as well as to reassert the person's right to decide when and with whom to have sex.


  • If the family has strong religious convictions, they might have trouble dealing with the "sin" aspect of the sexual assault. The survivor may feel as though they committed the sin. If the family agrees with or promotes this idea, the psychological ramifications could be tremendous. The thing to remember here is the Bible deals with sexual sin in terms of agreement of both parties to the act. Rape is mentioned in the Bible as something which is abhorrent to God and is punished; here, the rapist must take the responsibility for these actions.


  • This crisis is very much akin to the grieving process associated with the loss of a loved one. The survivor must be allowed to grieve - it will lead to eventual healing, and the healing of the family. If the family tries to get the survivor to forget it or deny it by shrouding the incident and feelings in silence, they only force them to bury it more deeply. This can cause problems for years afterward.


  • Overprotecting the wounded loved one can be just as harmful as denying the crime. If they constantly try to insulate the survivor from hurt, they keep them from confronting feelings. Keeping the survivor in a thrice locked gilded cage and taking away car keys is not the answer, either. Survivors must live in this world when their "protectors" are no longer there. They must be allowed to regain control of all of their life.

The advocate's key roles in intervention with the families and partners of survivors should be educational in nature.

  1. Explain the inherently violent nature of sexual assault as a crime, helping family members to understand that the survivor's experience has been more of a life threatening one than a sexual episode.

  2. Prepare the family for the predictable psychological and physiological consequences of the sexual assault.

  3. Help the family to understand that they are most productive when they assist the survivor in mobilizing their own best coping abilities as an autonomous adult rather than a sheltered child.

  4. Explain to the family how to provide an accepting and safe environment into which the survivor can release troubling thoughts and feelings without fear of condemnation or critical response.

  5. Discuss any sexual indifference by a partner toward the survivor. Help the partner to identify the components of change in feelings and see the congruity of the feelings.

  6. Discuss any sexual incompatibility or indifference before the assault. Encourage both partners to discuss this fact and not to blame the sexual assault for pre-existing problems.

Helpful Do's and Don'ts for the Advocate

  • Don't be openly critical.

    • This can cause defensiveness and anger.

    • It can cause the family to stop talking with you and thereby:

      •  Decrease useful venting, and

      • Render you powerless to help.

  • Do focus supportively on the partner's injury - be aware and let them know you are aware that they have suffered a loss.

  • Do let them know that although it is like grief, it need not be permanently debilitating. They will never forget it, but they can go on.

  • Do encourage significant others to support one another.

  • Do give any information and support you can.

  • Do let them know you care.

  • Do offer a male counselor for male survivors or male family members if available and requested.


Options Available to Family and Significant Others.

  • Strengthening the survivor's resources against harm.

    • Counseling and gynecological services.

    • Support groups.

    • Physical relocation and family protection.

    • Cooperation with the criminal justice system.

  • Avoidance Behavior

    • Distraction

    • Conspiracy of silence

  • Attacking Behavior

    • Retribution fantasies.

    • Blaming the survivor.

    • Displacement of anger on to would-be helpers.

    • Inaction to avail oneself of counseling.

Let the survivor know you're willing to listen. Because of the nature of the crime, it's sometimes difficult to talk about it. Be a good listener. Allow them to "talk it out" if they want to - to you or to someone else.

Let them know you care and that it's important to you that they feel safe again.

Allow them to make decisions and take control of their lives at their own pace. The rapist just took that control away. You may help make decisions but don't overprotect.

Be stable and secure for them. They will need reassurances that they are still the same person, not "dirty" or "ruined". In general, a male survivor may be more controlled in his response to the crisis and less inclined to talk about it. Encourage him to talk, but don't force him. Be supportive. Be open when he wants to talk.

Everyone reacts differently in a crisis situation. However the survivor is reacting to this crisis is right for them.

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