For Friends and Family
Even though you were not the victim of the assault, hearing your loved one’s story and helping to support them can impact you as well. When someone that you care about tells you that they have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, it can be difficult. You may have a range of reactions that could include shock, anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, and/or denial.
The sexual assault of a friend or relative can change the way that you see the world. You may find:
- Your belief in personal safety has been impacted, especially if your loved one was assaulted in a place that you live or visit.
- There are new conflicts in your relationships, whether those are intimate partner relationships, friendships, or family relationships. This can be especially true if the person who committed the assault is a mutual acquaintance or a relative.
- You are more easily irritated or less tolerant of frustrations.
- You have nightmares or trouble sleeping.
- You feel distant and avoidant of people and activities that you usually find pleasurable, especially if your loved one was assaulted in one of these places.
Suggestions for coping with these feelings:
- Stay involved in activities that don’t revolve around your loved one’s experience. It can be easy to get caught up in what is happening to him or her.
- Get involved in a new sport or hobby that you love and find other people who are doing the same thing.
- Make a date night with a spouse, partner, or friend and stick with it.
- Treat leisure appointments as seriously as business appointments. If you have plans to do something for fun, mark it on your calendar.
- It is OK to set limits if you find that you are getting too involved with what is happening to your loved one.
- Find a friend or family member that can support you.
- Keep a journal. It may be helpful to write down some of the feelings that you are experiencing.
- Remember that it is still OK to laugh and have fun.
As you work to support your loved one, remember that it is important to maintain your own emotional health. It can be easy to get caught up in their needs and to forget about your own. You cannot help your loved one if you are in crisis yourself.
Discovering that your child has been sexually assaulted can be a parent’s worst nightmare, and the situation can be much harder to deal with when your child is away at college and you can’t physically be there for them. It is natural to feel angry, hurt and to have feelings of self-blame or helplessness. By confiding in you, your daughter or son has put a tremendous amount of trust in your relationship and there are many ways that you can show your support, even from afar.
- Understand if your child doesn’t tell you about the assault immediately or if they don’t come to you first. There are a number of reasons why they might avoid telling you about it, but rather than focusing on why they delayed coming to you, you should direct your energy into helping them heal. Don’t ask them to defend or justify their decision.
- Tell your son or daughter that you believe them and you want to support them in any way that you can. Your reaction may have an impact on whether or not they choose to continue to share this information with others and seek further support.
- Listen and allow your child to control what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident. It is natural to want to ask questions and get details about what transpired, but it is best to listen actively and non-judgmentally.
- Assure your daughter or son that it is not her or his fault. Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as a parent, you help the survivor understand that no matter what happened, it was not their fault.
- Be honest with your child about your feelings — it’s OK to admit that it’s a difficult topic to discuss, but be clear that you are willing to talk and listen about anything. It’s OK to grieve with your child, but . . .
- Control your emotions when talking to your child about the assault. You will probably feel many things including sadness, anger, guilt or even shame, but try not to let your feelings overshadow those of your child. It is hard for children to see their parents struggle, and they might feel guilty for upsetting you if your emotions get out of hand.
- Recognize that you can’t fix the problem. You might feel tempted to push your child to seek legal justice or other types of “solutions," but there is no way to make an assault go away. Let your child make their own decisions and be supportive of those choices.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself and spend time coming to terms with your own feelings about the assault—seek professional help if you need to. Among other emotions, you might be feeling guilty, helpless, or angry toward the person who assaulted your child. These reactions are expected, but you are not expected to deal with them by yourself.
You can contact the Office of the Dean of Students at 845-758-7454, or the Title IX coordinator at 845-758-7542 for more information about resources for you and your child. But first, out of respect for your child's privacy, be sure they are comfortable with your involvement.