Disclosing or reporting in any manner to another person that you have been raped or sexually assaulted is difficult. It can at times feel like you are climbing a mountain or trying to speak underwater. It can take someone days, weeks, or even months to disclose that they were assaulted and this takes an incredible amount of trust. Many people are so scared of the aftermath of reporting that they never tell another person what happened to them, leaving them to suffer in silence.
If someone comes to you and tells you that they have been assaulted, the first and most important step is to listen. Showing someone that you care enough to listen to what they have to say, with no preconceived notions and without pressuring them can make an incredible difference.
No matter what they say, being there for them unconditionally is key. They may cry, they may seem angry, or they may seem completely numb. Their feelings may not match what you might expect out of someone sharing this type of experience. However, it is important to remember that these are their own feelings.
Another important component of listening to a disclosure is to acknowledge and validate. Regardless of what you think or believe about their disclosure, it is important that they receive validation. You want them to know you have heard them and that you believe them. For so many people, being believed is the difference between staying silent and seeking help. Many people never disclose because they are afraid of not being believed or being questioned.
If the person reporting to you wants to seek medical help or wants to report to the police, you can offer your support. It is important that you never push or force someone to share their story with anyone if they are not comfortable. While you may think that police involvement or medical care are essential, it is ultimately up to them. They are trusting you with something very private and personal and you must respect their wishes.
If someone reports to you, it is not your business to share their story with anyone else. While you may think that their friends or family “deserve” to hear what has happened, it is up to them if and when they are ready to share. Remember that they came to you because they trusted you and they selected you as someone trustworthy.
At the end of the day, you can only offer yourself as a caring ear and provide them with resources such as A Voice for The Innocent, RAINN, and Women Helping Women, all of which are here to provide support for victims of sexual assault.