Tips on having difficult conversations about sexual assault

WASHINGTON — It’s a difficult conversation to have and many are unprepared for it, but discussing sexual assault is important for victims.

Marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month, here are expert tips on how to talk with a victim who comes to you for help.

At first, a confidant may be upset for his friend or loved one and mad at the perpetrator or society. The wrong thing might be said, says Catholic University professor and therapist Eileen Dombo.

“There’s always these questions of, ‘Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Why didn’t you call the police?’ So lots of judgment that obviously people fear, and that’s why they keep silent,” she says.

And while it may feel right to reassure the friend or to share a similar experience, Dombo says to focus on listening without judgment.

“I think this is such a crime of power and control and the person feels so much loss … so to say, ‘How can I help you deal with this?’ or ‘What can I do for you?’ is a great way to start.”

When someone approaches a friend or loved one to talk about a sexually abusive experience, it’s because the victim feels that person is trustworthy, says Dombo.

“If they are an adult and you don’t have to report it, then obviously you want to keep their confidence. And let them know there are resources in the community when they’re ready for other support,” she says.

Suggesting the DC Rape Crisis Center as one place to start, Dombo says there are multiple resources available for victims and their families.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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