Helping a rape survivor

We live in a violent society where a shocking one in three women will be raped. Rape not only affects the survivor but also those close to the person. What can you do to help a rape survivor?

A good place to start is to understand your own reactions. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, helpless, angry, powerless and even guilty when this has happened to someone you love. You may also feel the need to take control and to want to make things better for her. Sometimes it is easier for you to pretend that it never happened and to avoid talking about it.

Learn as much as you can about rape and remember that you also need support to deal with your own reactions and emotions and to remain strong enough to offer the best help you can.

What does she need?
The People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA) has the following advice:

  • Medical attention: The survivor should be encouraged to seek medical attention even if she does not appear to be injured. She needs to find out if she has any internal injuries and determine her risk of pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If she decides to report to the police, she will need to go to a special rape centre or see a district surgeon for a medico-legal examination before she baths and gets treated for any injuries or illnesses. Most private hospitals and government hospitals in large centres are equipped to deal with rape cases.
  • Police intervention: She must make the decision about whether to report and you must support her choice. If she wants to report, you can offer to go with her to the police station and stay with her while she makes her statement.
  • Emotional support: You can help by giving her information about professionals and organisations that have knowledge about rape, has skill in working with rape survivors and knows about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What about emotional support?

  • Talking: Make it clear that you are available and willing to hear what she needs to say. Show her that you believe her.
  • Reassurance: Rape survivors often feel guilty and ashamed about what happened. She needs to hear that the rape wasn’t her fault. She also needs to believe that whatever she did during the assault was the right thing to do because it saved her life.
  • Regaining control: She needs to resume control of her body, her feelings and her life. Don’t tell her what to do or put pressure on her to do things she isn’t ready for – especially having sex. Support her choices and be patient. Avoid being overly protective – this reinforces her sense of vulnerability and lack of control.

Finally, if there is any threat to her safety, ensure that she has the necessary protection. - (Ilse Pauw, Health24, updated December 2011)

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