What to say if someone tells you they have been raped
When someone tells you that they have been raped, your response is critical to their recovery and decisions about what to do next.
Responding with compassion is the key, and it's very simple:
There are three things which a person who has been assaulted should hear:
- "I believe you;"
- "It was not your fault;"
- "You are not alone."
The words you use to convey these messages are up to you and you know best how to express them for yourself.
- ASK the person what they want you to do;
- Don't judge them if they choose not to take action. It's their decision;
- Consider whether you should document what they've said. Have you asked if it is okay for you to do so? Have you thought about how and where you will store it to keep their privacy?
- Some jobs require you to report disclosures of sexual assault. Find out your state's mandatory reporting guidelines.
- Remember - the decision about what to do is always with the person who has experienced sexual assault.
Help for support people
It is normal to experience some distress yourself when hearing about sexual assault or other forms of violence.
Many describe feeling some of the same thoughts and feelings as the person who was assaulted such as anxiety, fear, guilt, intrusive memories about what you have been told or avoidance of those thoughts. This is called vicarious trauma.
If you are experiencing any distress yourself, you are entitled to support too. You may choose to speak to a support person in your life such as your GP, a counsellor or friend.
Some of the strategies that are helpful for people who have experienced sexual assault, domestic and/ or family violence can also be helpful for you and you can read more about coping with trauma here:
You can speak to one of our telephone or online counsellors if you need support: