Self Care For Survivors

How do I practice self-care?

Good self-care enables you to better care for others, especially if there is someone in your life who has survived sexual violence. The principles of self-care for friends and family are similar to the self-care concepts for survivors, but there are some additional aspects to consider.

  • Maintain your lifestyle. It can be difficult to stay emotionally strong if you are mostly focusing on the sexual assault. Maintaining your lifestyle and continuing to do what you enjoy is important for your emotional wellness. If you enjoy painting, cooking, exercising, spending time with friends, or other activities, keep them up. It may seem challenging to make time to do these activities, but they can be helpful self-care strategies in the long-run.

  • Make plans. Sometimes talking about what happened can help you cope with your feelings, and other times it can make you feel more stuck. Make plans that give you a break from talking or thinking about the assault. It could mean starting a new hobby or revisiting one you already enjoy. You could go to dinner with a group of friends who understand this isn’t time to discuss what happened. Maybe you prefer a solo activity, like going on long walks. Let this be a time where you can take your mind off the assault.

  • Reach out and talk about it. It’s normal to have a difficult time processing the sexual assault of someone you care about. It can continue to be difficult as time goes on and the survivor begins the healing process. You can call the Sexual Assault Hotline at 0247243393 or visit at to chat with someone who understands what you’re going through. You can also consider talking to someone who is trained professionally to help you deal with these thoughts and feelings, like a mental health professional.

  • Take time to relax. Relaxation looks different for everyone. You might consider meditation or deep breathing exercises. Maybe journaling helps you sort through your thoughts and find peace. Build time into your day for these moments of relaxation so that you don’t skip out

Tips For Talking To Sexual Assault Survivors

“Making someone feel obligated, pressured or forced into doing something of a sexual nature that they don't want to is sexual coercion. This includes persistent attempts at sexual contact when the person has already refused you. Nobody owes you sex, ever; and no means no, always.”

Here are some specific phrases we recommend to be supportive through a survivor’s healing process:

“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.

“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.

“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.

“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.

Continued Support

There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support.

  • Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”

  • Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.

  • Know your resources. You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, such as the Sexual Assault Hotline 0247243393 and

    • It’s often helpful to contact your local sexual assault service provider for advice on medical care and laws surrounding sexual assault. If the survivor seeks medical attention or plans to report, offer to be there. Your presence can offer the support they need.

    • If someone you care about is considering suicide, learn the warning signs, and offer help and support. For more information about suicide prevention please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 0207373222 any time, day or night.

    • Encourage them to practice good self-care during this difficult time.

Self-Care for Friends and Family

It’s important to know that there is no normal or one way to react when you find out someone you care about has survived an act of sexual violence. Regardless of what you’re feeling, these emotions can be intense and difficult to deal with. Learning how to manage these feelings can help you support the survivor in your life and can help you feel less overwhelmed.

How am I supposed to react?

There is no “right” reaction to hearing that someone you care about has survived an act of sexual violence. You may experience some of the following emotions:

  • Anger. You might feel anger for a number of reasons: towards yourself for not being able to protect the survivor; towards the survivor for telling you about something that is hard to hear, or because they waited a period of time before telling you; or towards the perpetrator for carrying out the assault and hurting the survivor. It can be difficult to keep anger from affecting the way you communicate. Let yourself acknowledge this emotion and find another outlet to express it.

  • Anxiety. You might feel anxious about responding the “right” way or worried about how this event will impact your relationship with the survivor. Reassure the survivor that the assault was not their fault and that you believe them. These can be the most powerful and helpful words for a survivor to hear.

  • Confusion. You might feel confused by what you’re hearing. You might not understand how it could happen or why it has happened. Sadly, sexual assaults are more common that we’d like to think. Although you may be struggling with feelings of confusion, especially if you know the perpetrator, you should always try to believe the survivor. They are never to blame for the assault.

  • Disbelief. When you first hear about the assault you might be surprised or shocked, and you might have trouble believing the assault happened. After a traumatic experience, it’s common for survivors and those around them to experience denial. It’s important to focus on believing the survivor and acknowledging their story.

  • Guilt. You may feel guilty that you could not prevent the assault from happening or that the survivor didn’t feel comfortable telling you about the assault right way. You may feel guilty that something so terrible happened to someone else and not to you. It can be helpful to refocus your energy on making the survivor feel supported as they move forward.

  • Sadness. When you learn that a trauma like sexual assault happened to someone you care about, it’s normal to feel sad, hopeless, worried, or powerless. You might feel sad for the survivor or mourn how this has changed their life. If you know the perpetrator, you might feel sad for how this has changed your life as well. Self-care strategies and coping skills can help you move through these feelings.

Facts About Sexual Violence

People don’t lie about being sexually assaulted.

Whenever a person experiences sexual assault, the idea that they will not be believed often acts as a deterrent to seeking help. Additionally, victim or survivors of sexual assault are also often blamed for what has happened to them. Because of this, and other factors, people who have been sexually assaulted report less often and do not get the help they need at a time when they need it most.

Why are there misconceptions about this?

There are many thoughts about why people think others lie about being sexually assaulted: the victim or survivor wants revenge, woke up the next morning and regretted having sex, etc. All of these ideas are false. Additionally, the general public does not want to believe that others they know and respect are capable of committing sexual assault.

The fact is…..

The data on all crimes has found that people falsely report being sexually assaulted at the same rate as other comparable crimes: 3 percent of the time.

Sexual assault occurs at rates much higher than what is actually reported. So, in other words, instead of thinking that people lie about being sexually assaulted the opposite is true. People are afraid to admit that they HAVE BEEN sexually assaulted because of the fear and pain that is associated with their lived experience.

People who commit sexual assault are people you know.

Often we think of people who rape as a specific person who looks, acts and lives a certain way. We think of them as being so different from us that they could not possibly be in our workplaces, neighborhoods and community events.

Why are there misconceptions about this?

The media falsely portrays those who commit sexual assault in a stereotypical way which influences how people form ideas around the issue. As a result, the general public is given the wrong impression of who is actually committing sexual assault.

The fact is…..

The majority people who commit sexual assault are everyday people who are married with children and regular jobs. They are also college students, family members, co-workers, etc. Their behavior is what makes them sexual predators not their lifestyles. This does not mean that stranger rape does not happen; it does. But most victims/survivors of sexual assault know their perpetrators.

People who are in a relationship can be sexually assaulted by their partner.

Just because two people are in a relationship does not mean that their partner cannot hurt them in a sexually violent way.

Why are there misconceptions about this?

One reason people think that people who are married or in committed relationships cannot sexually assault each other is because they have had sex with that person before – perhaps even for years – with permission. Therefore, there is a widely held belief that if one has given consent once, twice or over the years, then getting consent in the future is not necessary.

The fact is…..

“Research suggests that marital rape accounts for 25 percent of all rapes” (Bachman et al., 1994). Sexual assault between persons in a relationship, or what is called intimate partner rape (IPR), occurs in various ways – not just rape. Some of these ways include manipulation, coercion and pressuring the other person to have sex or do perform sexual activities when that person does not want to. No matter how long two people have been together or how many times they have had consensual sex in the past, does not give one person permission to sexually assault their partner.. Each time people engage in sex with their partners, they should use “checking in” language and use good communication to ensure that each partner is fully present in the decision to have sex.
Bachman, Ronet, and Bruce M. Taylor. “The Measurement of Family Violence and Rape by the Redesigned National Crime Victimization Survey,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3, September 1994.

Drunk or drug-facilitated sex can be sexual assault.

When drugs or alcohol are used to lower someone’s cognitive thinking skills or ability give consent to sexual activity that is rape. Often when a victim or survivor reports having been intoxicated or on drugs, their story is deemed “regret sex” or “they just had too much to drink.”

Why are there misconceptions about this?

Our society is one that uses sex to sell alcohol (which is a drug) and as a result, we are given images of how people are “supposed to act” when they are under the influence. These ideas come directly from the media and alcohol companies of whom portray women and men in very different roles when they are drinking. Women are portrayed as becoming sexually aroused and highly promiscuous. Men are portrayed as becoming reckless and predatory for sex. In other words, the media sells us ideas of the expectation of alcohol’s effect which leads to justifying the sexual act or dismissing the sex act as “just drunk sex.”

The fact is…..

“At least 50 percent of college students’ sexual assaults are associated with alcohol use” (Abbey, 2002). But the problem doesn’t stop at just college campuses. Alcohol and drug-induced sexual assaults occur inside and outside of our homes, workplaces and social functions. When alcohol and drugs are used as ways to lower a person’s inhibition or defenses so that they are not able to give consent, this is sexual assault and punishable under the law.

Abbey, A. (2002). “Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement 14: 118-128.

Men and women both can be victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault and rape are traditionally thought to be a women’s issue; that women are the only ones who are and can be victimized; and that women are the ones who should end sexual assault. Unfortunately, men are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape too. Their victimization is just as important to take seriously and end as women’s victimization.

Why are there misconceptions about this?

Men are told to play very specific stereotypical roles in our society. Those stereotypes include being physically strong, emotionally absent and always in control. When men are put into these types of boxes, there is little room for them to admit that they have been a victim of anything, let alone sexual assault. Many people believe that men should have been strong enough to fight off their attacker; that men are not able to be sexually assaulted by women; and that men are simply incapable of being sexually assaulted.