Secondary Survivors

Unfortunately, many of us will one day know someone who has survived a sexual assault. This is a traumatic experience for not only the survivor, but also for people who are close to the survivor. People who are friends or loved ones of a rape survivor are referred to as “secondary survivors.”

If you are close to someone who has been raped, you are undoubtedly feeling a variety of strong emotions. Some of these feelings will involve the survivor, some will involve the rapist, and many will involve handling your own feelings. At a time when you want to most help the survivor through his/her crisis, you may be dealing with a crisis of your own.

Here are some suggestions on how to help the survivor, as well as some ideas about helping yourself. Remember that although your first concern may be to help your loved one recover, your own feelings are extremely important and that by dealing with your own feelings, you may be better able to provide the continuing support that he/she may need.

Ways to Help and Some Things You Can Do

• Your major goal in dealing with the survivor is to be supportive. Experience tells us that a survivor who receives emotional support from those he/she is close to will make for a much healthier and speedier recovery. Support means dealing with whatever needs the survivor may have, and recognizing that all of those needs are normal. He/She may want to talk with you, or he/she may want to talk to someone else, or he/she may not want to talk at all. He/She may also have a variety of emotional responses to the rape that may affect the way he/she responds to you. A survivor may also act in ways that might not be typical for that person, or might appear totally unaffected by the assault. Remember that no matter how a survivor is feeling, he/she is reacting in whatever way he/she needs to recover.
• When a survivor is ready to talk, really LISTEN to their feelings. Good listening involves not only hearing what the survivor is saying but also empathizing. A good listener doesn’t necessarily have to talk or respond; eye and body movements or setting aside plenty of free time to listen can show you care. Your goal isn’t to solve his/her problem, or to tell the survivor how you are feeling. It is important to allow the survivor to talk about whatever feelings he/she might have.

Keep In Mind The Following if You Are the Partner of a Survivor:or

• Because the rape took away the survivor’s feelings of control, especially in regard to sexual decision-making, this is one area where he/she needs to be given every opportunity to regain that sense of control. Do not demand or pressure him/her into sexual activity. Many men and women who are survivors prefer a period of sexual abstinence after being raped.
• Don’t be angry with the survivor or doubt your own sexual adequacy if he/she appears less sexually responsive than previously. Give him/her the opportunity to openly communicate to you his/her feelings about your sexual relationship. If you display anger, frustration, or an unwillingness to change certain patterns, you are likely to distance the survivor from you and place an added burden on your relationship.
• A big concern may be whether the survivor has contracted a sexually transmitted disease as a result of the rape. This is a possibility, and can directly affect a survivor’s sexual partner. You, as well as the survivor, should have regular checkups so that both of you can be protected.
• Be patient. Sexual disruption following a rape is usually temporary and can be overcome with sensitivity and understanding.

What You May Be Feeling

No matter how the rape occurred or how the survivor is dealing with it, being close to someone who has been raped makes you feel terrible. Because you care, you will want to do everything you can to help him/her through this crisis and assist in the recovery. However, it is important that you deal with your feelings about the rape. Not everyone reacts in the same way or with the same degree of intensity when someone they know has been raped.

Final Notes and Where to Get Help

You can play a major role in helping a loved one recover from rape. It is not an easy task and it requires a lot of patience, sympathy, understanding, real listening, and time. Your support and belief in the survivor communicate the most important message—unconditional love. Believe in the survivor and yourself and trust that he/she is strong enough to do the rest for himself/herself.

Remember that your feelings are important too, and that by talking and working through your feelings, you’ll be better able to provide the continuing support that he/she may need. If you are affected by the emotional upheaval in the survivor’s life and feel that you need help in assisting the survivor, the Rape Crisis Center is hear for you. Call us.

Helpful Information

For information about rape, dealing with the police and legal systems, protecting against rape, professional counseling and other support systems, contact Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis. All services are free of charge, and you can reach us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.



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Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis, Inc
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