What Not To Say

Eleven Things NOT to Say to Survivors of Sexual Assault (and What to Say Instead)

"Only crazy people need therapy"
Like many of the statements on this page, this is JUST PLAIN WRONG. Some experiences are traumatic for virtually anyone, regardless of how "normal" the person is. Often psychotherapy and rape crisis counseling can be very helpful for survivors with mild, moderate, or severe problems due to sexual assault.

"I'll kill the guy who did this to you"
Anger is an understandable reaction on your part, but frequently harmful for a survivor because s/he has just faced one person whose anger was out of control. They will then have the burden of calming you down so there will not be any more violence. 

"It's better not to talk about it"
Instead, tell your friend that you are willing to listen when he or she is ready to talk. Many sexual assault survivors find that talking about stressful events speeds up recovery if the survivor is allowed to talk at his or her own pace. 

"Why are you afraid of me? I didn't do it."
Rape and incest often affect the interactions of the survivor with other people and cause confusion about and fear toward sex and intimacy. For instance, a woman who was sexually assaulted by a man may fear men. Survivors often need to exert and feel more in control of a relationship than they might have before an assault. 

"It's my fault" or "It's not my fault"
Sexual assault is ONLY THE PERPETRATOR'S FAULT. It is not the fault of the survivor. It is not the fault of the survivor's family and friends. Statements like "It's not my fault" may suggest to the survivor that the assault is his/her fault. If you want to talk about fault at all, tell the survivor, "It's not your fault."

"Going to the police (or testifying in court) will just make things worse."
Different people make different choices about going to the police and pressing charges. Some studies show that reporting to the police, though painful, sometimes helps with recovery from sexual assault. These actions also help get rapists off the street and emphasize that violence against women will not be condoned. 

"Why can't you just forget about it?"
The reminders of a sexual assault are constant and everywhere: some examples are sex, interactions with men (or women), street harassment, and any position of vulnerability. In the face of this, forgetting may be impossible. 

"When you fall off a horse, you have to jump right back on"
This DOES NOT apply to resuming sex after sexual assault. Let the survivor decide when s/he is ready to have sex or to do other things of which s/he is afraid as a result of the assault. Be aware of subtle pressures to have sex that you may impose on him/her. It may help to seek couple's counseling. 

"What's the big deal?"
SEXUAL ASSAULT IS A BIG DEAL for many reasons, even for women who are sexually active and even if it happened a long time ago. An assault can destroy a person's belief that the world is a safe place, that s/he knows who to trust, that s/he has control over his/her own body and sexual activity. Rape is a life-threatening act. Rape is NOT just sex. 

"Why didn't you fight?"
There are numerous natural responses to being attacked including freezing, submitting, and fighting. Your friend has survived; don't demand more of him/her than that. 

"Nothing I can say (or do) will help."
Yes it can! Tell your friend you are ready to listen whenever s/he wants to talk about it and express her feelings. If she can't talk about it with you, help her find someone else with whom she can talk about it. Listen and do not criticize, judge, or condemn. Patience and love can help.