With compassion and understanding of the issues around sexual violence, it’s unlikely you’ll say harmful things. But…
Try not to badger her with unhelpful questions like;
- Why didn’t you tell me before now?
- Why didn’t you scream?
- Why didn’t you tell someone?
- Why don’t you report it to the police?
- Why did you (go back to his flat / walk that route / etc.)
Never doubt what she tells you about her experiences. It may be very difficult to believe that such a terrible thing has been done, especially if you know the perpetrator, but the truth is that women and girls rarely lie about sexual violence.
Never judge her or imply that it was in any way her fault. For example, saying things like “didn’t you think about leaving?”, “why didn’t you tell anyone at the time?” or “if only you’d walked the other way home” imply a judgemental attitude, even if you don’t intend it.
Never insist that she tells you anything that she seems reluctant to, especially details of traumatic events. Give her space to tell you as much or little as she wants to, in her own time.
Never trivialise or dismiss her feelings or experiences. It may be easy to compare it to something more terrible, perhaps that someone else has experienced, but saying things like ‘it could be worse, it wasn’t as bad as…’ is never helpful. Recognise the pain she’s going through.
Do not expect her to ‘get over it’ in a certain amount of time. Everyone deals with the affects of sexual violence at their own pace.
Do not expect her to react in any one way – all women and girls react differently.
Never break her confidence. If you feel that it is your duty to tell someone because a child is at risk, at the very least discuss this with her before you do.
Do not tell her what she ought to do or do anything without her agreement. Confronting the perpetrator, phoning the police or making a medical appointment on her behalf may make matters worse. Never take decisions for her, or pressure her into agreeing to doing something. An important part of dealing with the powerlessness of sexual violence is learning to feel in control again, so try not to do anything which takes control away from her. Help her to explore her options.