An avid BWQ reader herself, A. Rose Bi proudly identifies as a bisexual woman. She currently lives in New England with her lazy spirit animal, a Siberian cat named after CJ Cregg. In addition to being an out bi woman, A. has a degree in Cognitive Science, has completed trainings for LGBTQ+ and sexual assault survivor advocacy, and has experience answering calls for an anonymous LGBTQ+ help line. She is passionate about feminism, the bi+ community, LGBTQ+ and female representation in the media, and helping others. A. Rose Bi’s column relies on questions from readers like you! You can send any questions you might have or suspect other readers may have to the author directly at askbwq [at] gmail.com or by posting on the Bi Women’s Quarterly Facebook group. All questions are anonymous, nothing is off-limits, and anything related to upcoming issue topics is extra-encouraged!
Dear A. Rose Bi,
My friend just told me that she was recently sexually assaulted. She won’t tell me anything else and doesn’t want to talk about it. I can’t imagine what she’s going through. I want to help, and I know talking through these sorts of traumas help people process. How do I get her to talk to me about what happened?
Just Trying to Help
Dear Just Trying,
First, I’m so glad your friend felt they could tell you. It’s often extremely difficult to talk about a sexual assault and it sounds like your friend is having a hard time discussing it at all. Talking to you was likely a huge step, and it’s great that they felt comfortable doing that.
Next, it’s fantastic that you want to help your friend work through this, but talking it out isn’t necessarily the way to do that. While talking about what happened can be helpful to many survivors of sexual assault, feeling comfortable doing so can take a lot of time or may not happen at all. What your friend needs right now is just to know you will be there if they feel ready to open up in the future. It already sounds like you care immensely and that they trust you, but here are some good things to remember when helping someone through the aftermath of a sexual assault:
Always believe them. The rate of people lying about sexual assault is incredibly small. Survivors have so much to fight with to even tell their story that there is very little reason to make something like this up. Believe what they are telling you.
Listen when they are ready to talk. You can’t force someone to open up, and talking might be too painful. If they have already told you, they are likely comfortable with you and might open up more as time goes on.
Help them find resources. Does your community have a sexual assault survivor resource hotline or center? Does your friend want to report their assault? You don’t have to be an expert on what to do next, but you can help by doing some research and finding the people who are.
Take care of yourself. I know I preach this a lot but it is so important. This is obviously a lot to handle for your friend, but this can be a lot to handle for you, too. I’m not sure if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone, but regardless this isn’t something you want to be sharing without their consent. However, you need to make sure you are okay. Do you have a therapist, doctor, or close friend who might not know this friend that you can talk to? If not, there are hotlines and websites for people in a situation like yours. Remember – always secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. You are much more of a help to your friend if you are taking care of yourself.
If all else fails, you can always ask your friend what they need from you. They might not know, and that’s okay – you can figure it out together. Remind them that you’re here for them and that you believe and support them. That alone can be a huge relief and help for a survivor of sexual assault.
Sending you and your friend lots of love,
A. Rose Bi
This post originally appeared in Bi Women Quarterly in Summer 2017 and is reprinted with permission. Read current and back issues and sign up for a free electronic subscriptions to Bi Women Quarterly at www.biwomenboston.org.