Who is a secondary survivor?
A secondary survivor is a friend, family member, or partner of someone who has experienced sexual misconduct.
Sexual assault can be traumatizing for not only the survivor of the assault, but for their family, friends, or partners. Because they care about the survivor of this crime, it affects them as well. Their responses and feelings about the assault are real and valid.
Find the support and resources you need to take care of yourself and be the best support possible to your loved one.
Take Care of Yourself
Sexual assault can be traumatic not only for the survivor of the assault, but also for their friends, family, or partners. When someone reveals they have been sexually assaulted there is no “correct” way to process your feelings. You may experience anger, guilt, disbelief, confusion, sadness or none of the above.
Whatever emotions you are experiencing, it is vital that you take care of yourself. Self-care can contribute to your own personal wellness and help you better support the primary survivor. Here are some tips on practicing good self-care:
- Do what works for you. There is no list of activities that is right for everyone. It is important to do whatever feels best for you because you are the expert on your situation. This could mean incorporating all, none, or any combination of the following suggestions.
- Maintain your lifestyle. It can be difficult to stay emotionally strong if you are mostly focusing on the sexual assault. Maintaining your lifestyle and continuing to do what you enjoy is important for your emotional wellness. If you enjoy painting, cooking, exercising, spending time with friends, or other activities, keep them up. It may seem challenging to make time to do these activities, but they can be helpful self-care strategies in the long run.
- Make plans. Sometimes talking about what happened can help you cope with your feelings and other times it can make you feel more stuck. Make plans that give you a break from talking or thinking about the assault. It could mean starting a new hobby or revisiting one you already enjoy. You could go to dinner with a group of friends who understand this isn’t time to discuss what happened. Maybe you prefer a solo activity, such as going on long walks. Let this be a time where you can take your mind off the assault.
- Take time to relax. Relaxation looks different for everyone. You might consider meditation or deep breathing exercises. Maybe journaling helps you sort through your thoughts and find peace. Build time into your day for these moments of relaxation.
- Reach out and talk about it. It’s normal to have a difficult time processing the sexual assault of someone you care about. It can continue to be difficult as time goes on and the survivor begins the healing process. You can also consider talking to someone who is trained professionally to help you deal with these thoughts and feelings, such as a mental health professional. Find counseling resources.
Sometimes good self-care involves seeking outside assistance for the emotions that you are experiencing. Know that if you need counseling or other resources as a secondary survivor, it does not mean that you are weak; it means that someone you care about was hurt. It is not uncommon to experience difficulty dealing with subsequent emotions.
The counseling and support resources that exist to help primary survivors of sexual assault are also available to secondary survivors. These include group therapy, individual therapy, 24-hour crisis lines and more.