Most women who have experienced sexual violence choose to tell someone close to them, who they feel safe enough to disclose about abuse which they have experienced, they believe that you are trustworthy, will believe them and will not tell others without speaking to them about it first. As a 'safe' person to tell, you are a woman's most important source of support.
Whether you are helping someone cope with the immediate trauma of a recent experience or someone coming to terms with sexual abuse suffered as a child, you are very important to them. It is important, therefore, that you see yourself as important here and take care of yourself and your own needs. The woman is not going to get over the trauma quickly, so you need to pace yourself in terms of how much time and energy you can realistically offer the woman whom you are supporting. Consistency over a long period is more important than sitting up all night for a week and setting up expectations that you will always be able to 'be there' for her.
Remember that no two people are the same and reactions to rape and sexual abuse are as varied as they are to bereavement. It is likely, however, that whatever her experience, at some point she feared for her life and that she will feel numb after the attack, 'cut off', in shock or even hysterical; she may appear perfectly calm and unaffected; she may fear that she is 'going mad'; these are all normal ways for a woman to process what has happened to her. Other effects may be flashbacks or panic attacks. Her behaviour may change: her eating habits may alter; she may feel the need to wash repeatedly. She may vomit or have other physical symptoms. All of these problems are alleviated by being able to talk about them; repetition of the trauma is common - TRY TO BE PATIENT.
Remember Rape Crisis Centres are there not only for the survivor but also for those who are supporting survivors. They can also offer specialist help/support for those suffering from sexual abuse.
Seeing someone you care about dealing with a traumatic experience can be distressing in itself. It is very important for you to make sure that you are looking after yourself. Recovering from abuse can take a long time and your friend/ partner/ sister/ daughter may not get over this quickly so you will need to pace yourself because it may take your friend quite a long time to recover. Be clear and honest about what support you can offer her and what you feel you are able to hear. You may feel a range of feelings about what has happened: angry, guilty, upset, nervous, overwhelmed, helpless, confused, shocked; you might find it hard to believe what she told you is true. If this is the case, it is important that you get support for yourself; you may need to talk to somebody about what you are feeling. Without such support, it can be really hard for you to be there for her. Try asking a trusted friend or family member or contact your local centre.