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Guidelines for Helping Sexual Violence Survivors

  • Believe the student. The greatest fear of a sexual assault survivor is that they will not be believed; accept what you are hearing.
  • Validate the significance of the event. Do not minimize the trauma they experienced. Recognizing the impact of the assault on their life may be helpful in the healing process.
  • Listen and be patient. Let her/him tell her/his story at their own pace.
  • Reinforce that the sexual assault was not the student’s fault. Whatever they did to survive the assault succeeded. Avoid questions that seem to blame them for their actions such as, “Why didn’t you scream? Why did you go to his room?"
  • Remind them that the perpetrator caused the attack, not the victim.
  • Allow the student to share their feelings, especially those of anger, self-blame, or grief.
  • Accept the survivor’s reactions, whatever they might be. State that these feelings are normal and the recovery process takes time.
  • Avoid comparing their experience to others’ experiences. Everyone experiences trauma differently.
  • Ask how you can help. Be available. Reassure the survivor that someone is available to them 24 hours a day.
  • Let the survivor take control of the situation. Remember the survivor has been robbed of all sense of control, so letting them make decisions will be empowering. Support all of the survivor’s decisions, even if you disagree with them.
  • Offer to accompany the survivor in seeking medical attention, counseling, or contacting the police.
  • Help identify a support system for the survivor—it can be a friend, family member, or counselor.
  • Suggest they call a professionally trained sexual assault advocate who can help her/him in all aspects of this crisis. This includes a member of University Counseling or a Project Horizon staff member.
  • Help them organize their thoughts on how to proceed, but let them make their own decisions in order to regain the feeling of being in control.
  • Be patient and let the survivor recover at their own rate. It may take weeks, months, or years. Survivors may never completely “forget” the attack.
  • Provide protection by giving the survivor a safe place to go. Offer them companionship or suggest a friend return home with them.
  • Encourage the survivor to preserve evidence. The sooner an assault is reported, the better the likelihood of charges being filed and the accused convicted. Caution the victim not to shower, eat, wash their clothes or brush their teeth. If they do go to the hospital, tell them to bring a change of clothes. The PERK exam requires all clothing to be examined at a police lab for evidence. Assure them that they will remain in control of decision making about judicial options.
  • Touch or hug the victim only if you’re sure that they are comfortable with physical contact. If you are unsure, ask.
  • Do not tell anyone else about the assault without the survivor’s permission.
  • BE AVAILABLE in the weeks and months following the assault. Recovery from sexual assault is a long, difficult process. Know when to ask for outside support to process your own feelings.
  • Confront your own fears and prejudices about sexual assault.
    Educate yourself about the common myths and misconceptions.
    Learn about Rape Trauma Syndrome to know what to expect from the survivor.
Partners of Survivors
  • Honor your partner’s wishes regarding sexual activity and physical intimacy levels.
  • If your partner has not brought up the subject, gently ask them about it.
  • Your partner’s needs should be of primary concern and should guide your actions.
  • See a counselor to discuss your feelings regarding the assault and its impact on your life.
  • Remember that even though some things may change between you and your partner for some time, most survivors recover from the trauma and have healthy, loving relationships.