Supporting a Partner

If your partner is the victim of sexual assault, you might be overwhelmed with conflicting emotions and questions. Was this my fault? Could I have prevented it? How do I make this go away? Will we ever enjoy physical intimacy again? How can I get revenge? How can I take away their pain? This is too much for me to handle…

While the experience of each survivor is unique, and therefore there are no set guidelines for how to help, there are some important points to keep in mind when offering support. First and foremost, sexual assault is not about sex — it is about power and control. The perpetrator of sexual assault is exerting power and control over another human being. The survivor is in no way responsible for the assault. Implying that your partner bears some responsibility for the assault will lead to distrust in your relationship.

Believe them: Being believed is the most important factor in recovery.

  • Tend to needs: Medical attention, emotional and psychological support and safety are important needs. If your friend is hesitant to get help, offer to accompany them in seeking medical attention, counseling, going to the police or to the University’s Title IX Coordinators. Sometimes that's all it takes to help a friend begin to take action. Recognize that your friend’s needs may change over time, so keep “checking in” to renew your offer of help and support.
  • Be a good listener. If you hear your own voice more than your partners, you’re talking too much and not listening enough. Listen non-judgmentally to what your partner is saying and accept the experience as your partner describes it. You may want to ask questions and get details about what happened, but remember that your role is to support your partner, and it is best to allow the survivor to decide what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident.
  • Validate your partner’s feelings. Be sympathetic, but do not let your own emotions get in the way of supporting your partner. It is not uncommon to feel intense anger toward "the person who did this" but what your friend needs right now is calm and caring support. Expressing your own emotions only adds to the emotional burden your partner is already carrying. Keep the focus off your own anger and on your partner’s emotional and physical well-being.
  • Assure your partner that it is not their fault. Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as their partner, you help the survivor understand that no matter what happened—it was not their fault.
  • Do not make judgmental comments. Do not comment on what could have been done differently or make statements that imply that your friend could have avoided the assault.
  • No more violence: Threatening to harm "the person who did this" will only make the survivor feel afraid
  • Give your partner control. Let them choose the next steps. You may provide advice, guidance, and information about their options, but allow your friend to decide if, when, and how they will pursue these resources. Accept their decisions even if you disagree. Ask before you touch
  • Be aware of your limitations: Be aware of your limitations. Recovery can be a long process. Utilize the resources on and off campus to support yourself and the survivor. Recognize and express your own feelings about the assault to your partner.
  • Educate yourself: about sexual assault and the healing process. Understanding the difference between rape and sexual assault versus consensual sex is a critical way you can support your partner.