Partners of Survivors
Sexual assault not only affects the victims, but their loved ones as well. The victim’s loved ones are often referred to as “secondary survivors” and may experience many different feelings including guilt, anger, and frustration. It is often important for partners of victims to seek help, since speaking with someone who dealt with assault can bring up issues within themselves. Many sexual abuse hotlines will accept calls from partners of victims, which might be very helpful.
Though sexual assault may not be an act of sexual need or desire, it is violence manifested sexually. It should not be surprising that many survivors experience difficulties sorrounding sex and intimacy.
- Difficulties and/or changes in sexual activity and sexual feelings are very common after sexual assault. A survivor may experience fear, flashbacks or difficulties with her/his own sexual response. A partner can help with these difficulties by:
- Giving the survivor the opportunity to make sexual decisions and advances. This will help her/him to feel more comfortable and empowered sexually.
- Respecting that the survivor may need a period of abstinence from certain sexual acts, sexual intercourse or all sexual activity. The partner can best support the survivor during this period of abstinence by continuing to express their intimacy with nurturing and loving contact that is acceptable to the survivor.
- Being patient. Sexual difficulties are quite normal and usually do not last forever. If the survivor feels loved and unconditionally accepted, she/he will again be ready to explore sexual intimacy with the partner.
- Work with the survivor to identify triggers, and avoid those activities that trigger the survivor back to the sexual assault. Develop a plan of how to handle a trigger if one happens while being intimate. For example, are there signs that the survivor is triggered, is there a word or phrase she/he can use to stop intimacy, does the survivor want to be held afterwards or does she/he need to be left alone?