A Guide For Friends of Survivors of Sexual Assault
If someone has told you that they have been sexually assaulted, it’s likely to have been one of the hardest things they have ever had to tell you. It may have taken them weeks or even years to feel able to talk to anyone about what has happened. Respect the huge step they have taken and the trust they have put in you.
Most people have little experience of helping someone through a traumatic event such as a sexual assault, so it’s normal to feel unsure what to do. What is important is that you care enough about that person to want to help.
How to Help a Friend:
- Listen to your friend without judging them. The survivor likely came to you because they consider you to be a person of trust to them. Remember to reassure them and validate their feelings. Tell them that you believe them and reinforce that they are not to blame for what happened.
- Give them the time and space that they need. Let the survivor tell you how they feel. Try to resist asking them about the details of the experience; they may feel pressure to talk when they are not ready. Don’t take it personally if your friend doesn’t want to talk to you or to talk right now. Part of being a good listener is letting them know that you’ll be ready to listen if and when they are ready to talk.
- Let them know that they do not have to go through this alone. Crisis Intervention Counselors as well as other mental health professionals are available on campus 24/7. There are also resources available in the community to help support survivors. Reassure the survivor that they are cared for.
- Help to educate them about their options. The survivor may want to seek medical care (STI testing, pregnancy testing and/or prevention, physical checkup, evidence collection, etc.), talk to a counselor, or report the assault to authorities. As a friend, you don’t need to be an expert on all the options that are available; there are professionals to help educate both you and the survivor. A Crisis Intervention Counselor at SARP is an example of a professional that can help educate you or your friend about the options available.
- Respect their decisions rather than telling them what to do. After a sexual assault, a survivor may experience a loss of power and control. Respecting the choices that survivors make helps them regain this control. This may be particularly challenging if you feel impacted by their choices. It is important to allow your friend to come to their own decisions without feeling pressured.
- Take care of yourself. Recognize that hearing about a sexual assault can be difficult and that you are going to have your own feelings about what has happened to your friend, and some of them like sadness and anger may even be similar. It is normal and okay for you to experience your own reactions. You may even feel confused about how to best support your friend. Remember that there are resources available to help support you as well. Talking to a counselor can help you understand your own reactions to what has happened and enable you to support your friend more effectively.
- Respect your friend’s privacy. Ask your friend what, if any, information it is OK for you to share with others. Ask how to manage others’- floor mates, classmates, club members, friends- questions and concerns. Should they be directed to ask your friend directly or are there ways you can respond and still respect your friend’s privacy?