Survivors of sexual assault: “But who should I tell?”

Deciding whether to tell a friend, family member, romantic partner, or even an employer about a sexual assault is completely up to you.

It can be hard to talk about an experience with sexual violence, and sometimes it may feel most daunting to bring it up with people you are closest to, such as family, friends, or a romantic partner. Whether you choose to tell others right away or years later, or prefer not to disclose is completely up to you. 

Verywell Mind shared some things that may help you make the decision about what you might disclose and who you want to disclose it to.

Who Might You Tell?

Before disclosing a sexual assault to someone, it is important to consider if you can trust the person. Here are some ways you can tell:

  • They’re easy to talk to.

  • You feel safe with them.

  • They treat you respectfully.

  • They do what they say they are going to do.

  • They have helped you in the past.

  • They show they care for you.

Also, think about whether this individual is likely to respond in a supportive way. Are they likely to believe you? Can they be someone who provides you with emotional support? 

Do they know the perpetrator? That may impact how they respond to your disclosure.

What Should You Say?

It’s up to you how much detail you give about your story. And just because someone may ask questions doesn’t mean you’re obligated to answer them.

Or you might choose to give them the details about what happened. It’s up to you to decide how much you’re comfortable sharing right now.

How to Say It

You don’t need to share your story in person. You might prefer to do it over the phone, by letter, or by email. You can do it however you feel most comfortable.

If you are concerned the person is going to ask a lot of questions, a letter may be best. The phone may still be a good option if you would like to speak but you don’t want to see the reaction on the other person’s face.

If you choose to share in person, consider where and when you’ll talk about it. You’ll most likely want the person’s full attention, and you’ll want a private space where you are less likely to be interrupted.

You can decide if you’re most comfortable sharing in your home, a coffee shop, while you’re walking in the park, or even on a car ride.

Establish Ground Rules

Before disclosing that you were sexually assaulted, you may want to establish some ground rules about the discussion. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) suggests saying something like, “I’d like to tell you about something that’s hard for me to talk about and it would mean a lot to me if you would just listen and not ask any questions.”

You might set rules about confidentiality as well, such as asking the person not to tell anyone else. Or you might ask the other person not to pressure you to go to law enforcement if you haven’t decided whether you are going to report it.

Think about what type of response you would appreciate, and ask the person to give it to you. They may welcome your direction on how to respond to your story—as they might experience a variety of emotions upon hearing it and be stuck about what to say next or how to help.

Talking to a Romantic Partner

You don’t have to tell any romantic partners that you were sexually assaulted. But you may want them to know why you sometimes experience flashbacks or nightmares. You might also decide to tell them if you want them to better understand why you aren’t comfortable with certain things. 

You don’t have to share details of what happened if you don’t want to. Instead, RAINN suggests you might say something such as, “I am not ready to talk about it in too much detail, but I want to let you know that I don’t like to do ____ and prefer instead ____ because of something really difficult that happened to me in the past.”

How to Deal With Unsupportive Responses

It would be wonderful if everyone supports you when you disclose that you were sexually assaulted. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to respond in a helpful way.

They may ask questions or provide comments that aren’t helpful such as:

  • What were you wearing?

  • What did you do to try to stop it from happening?

  • Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

  • I don’t think that really happened.

It can be very hurtful when someone you trust reacts in an unsupportive way. If you don’t receive a supportive reaction, it’s important to remember that this is reflective of them and not of you.