Being a victim of sexual assault is a traumatic experience. Many survivors struggle to cope in the wake of their assault, and may suffer from depression, anxiety, or even post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s hard to trust anyone after you have been the victim of a crime. This makes it extremely difficult for some sexual assault survivors to maintain healthy relationships—in all areas of their lives, but sometimes particularly in romantic relationships.
Intimate partners of survivors have to learn how to gain or regain their trust and how to make them comfortable. Some survivors may have triggers to flashbacks of their assault, or generally be uncomfortable around things that remind them of the experience. This could be anything from a color to a type of fabric, to a song or a tone of voice. It’s important for intimate partners to be willing to learn these triggers and be careful to avoid them whenever possible. Because victims will have to explain their needs to their partner, they also need to know that they can trust their partner with any details they are willing to share and be met with empathy and understanding.
As a partner of someone who has been sexually assaulted, whether it was before or after you began your relationship, there are several things you can do to help your partner cope and to strengthen your relationship. Be respectful of their boundaries, give them space or time when they need it, and make sure they know that you are available if they ever need help. Don’t ever try to rush intimacy; let them set the pace. Try to be open to communication, and understand that sometimes you may not be able to help, but that you are not at fault for that. Sometimes survivors need more than just a friend or a partner to talk to.
Above all, trust they know their own limits and that they’re still a person—capable of taking care of themselves and making decisions for themselves. In order to earn someone’s trust, you must be a person worth trusting. That includes being tirelessly supportive without expecting anything in return. If you care for someone who is a survivor of sexual assault, always be mindful of their needs and wants, and really put effort into being a good partner and friend. It may not feel like you’re doing much, but sometimes it can make all the difference.