common reactions for secondary survivors

There is no right or wrong way to feel after a loved one discloses a sexual assault to you.  It is important to explore your own feelings about sexual assault to evaluate your reaction before you respond to the survivor.  Your reaction is important in helping the survivor recover.  What is important is that you show the survivor that you care and that you can help support them.  You might consider speaking with someone other than the survivor to help you explore your feelings. It may be helpful to talk to a professional.  For information about finding a therapist, please go here.


It is not always helpful to tell the survivor your own feelings as he or she is dealing with their own reactions.  Your reactions may be different then the survivor.  Here are some common reactions that you may experience.  Please note this is not a comprehensive list. 

Physical Reactions

Nightmares, muscle tension, nausea, agitation, headaches


  • Why would someone do this?
  • Why was she/he with him/her?
  • Could she/he have prevented it?
  • What are the details?  what happened
  • Did she/he know him/her?
  • Could it happen to me?
  • I’m going to confront the assailant.
  • How can I be helpful?  



  • You may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
  • You might have difficulty figuring out how to respond.


  • You might feel angry at the perpetrator for hurting your loved one.
  • You might also feel angry at your loved one for not telling you sooner or for telling you something that is hard for you to hear.


  • You might feel sad for your loved one, for his or her family, or for what this assault may change about both of your lives.


  • You might feel anxiety about responding the “right” way to your loved one.
  • You might feel anxiety about how this will impact your relationship.


  • Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s assault, you might be concerned that something similar could happen to you.

(adapted from

Please remember that these reactions are completely normal.  Take care of yourself throughout this process.  Some self-care suggestions are listed here.  

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