Family and friends may react to the sexual assault of a loved one with many of the same feelings and physical reactions that the survivor experiences. Initially you may respond with shock and disbelief, especially if the survivor still looks the same or there are no visible signs of attack. You may even doubt that the assault happened. This is called “denial” and it happens after a traumatic experience.
You may feel intense fear for your own or the survivor’s safety. You may try to protect the survivor from future assault by being extremely cautious and over protective. It may be hard to let the survivor out of your sight or to let her/him return to everyday activities. All this concern may be reassuring soon after the assault, but too much caution on your part can make it difficult for the survivor to feel capable and in control again.
Often loved ones experience anger and even rage after a sexual assault. Your first reaction may be to seek revenge to find and kill the attacker. This is a normal feeling, but you will not be doing yourself or the survivor any good if you end up hurt or in jail and the survivor has to worry about you. Sometimes you may feel anger towards the survivor, especially if she/he did something you warned against, like hitchhiking or going to a party that ended in sexual assault. If you find yourself blaming the survivor for the assault, make sure that you have someone other than the survivor who can listen to your angry feelings. Remember, even if the survivor used poor judgment, it is the attacker who committed the crime and who is totally responsible for it.
It is not unusual to feel hopeless and depressed. A sexual assault brings up feelings of powerlessness in victims and those who love them, and you may feel that your life is out of control. Your security and trust have been drastically violated. If depression lasts for more than a few weeks or becomes serious, get support for yourself.
Guilt is a common reaction when a loved one has been sexually assaulted. Those closest to the survivor may blame themselves. But whatever you did or did not do, you are not to blame if someone you love has been sexually assaulted. It is solely the fault of the attacker. Instead of wasting time blaming yourself for something you had absolutely no control over, concentrate on the positive things you can do now.