How do I support a client who has been sexually assaulted?

It's vital to respond sensitively to clients who may have experienced sexual assault.

This page contains:

People have many different reactions and responses to sexual assault and there is no ‘obvious’ presentation when someone has been sexually abused.  After sexual assault, for example, many people feel they are going mad because of the overwhelming feelings they experience.  It can be helpful to reassure clients that they are simply reacting to a very traumatic and invasive event.

Reactions and presentations can differ between clients, or even within one client over time, and it is helpful if professionals understand this when dealing with clients who have experienced sexual violence.

When someone has been sexually abused, they can be on an emotional rollercoaster – ranging from withdrawn and sullen, to angry and emotional, to panicky and overwhelmed.  Understanding this can enable a worker to recognise different feelings and reactions to sexual abuse, which can help a client ascertain why they are feeling the way they feel and will help them to see the connection between their current feelings and the sexual violence they have experienced.  This can validate that what they are feeling is a ‘normal’ response to what has happened and this can be reassuring.

The main focus for any work with survivors of sexual assault should be around empowering them and helping them gain control over their lives again. Different professional groups may do this differently, according to the nature of their work with the survivor.

Key points to remember for anyone who is supporting a survivor of sexual assault are:

  • Believe them

  • Do not blame them

  • Respect their confidentiality

  • Be willing to hear them – provide a listening ear and sufficient time

  • Recognise the damage, harm and hurt that has resulted

  • Validate their feelings

  • Recognise their strengths

  • Provide appropriate information or referrals to support any further action they might wish to take (such as reporting the offence). Phone a specialist sexual assault service if there has been a recent assault so that any specific instructions relating to evidence, such as not showering, can be given.

  • Resource yourself (see our Training page)

  • Examine your own attitudes to sexual assault and abuse.

For more information about good practice see Internet Resources

Was this page helpful?

Your feedback helps to improve the content on this site.