Helping A Friend
What to do if… Your friend or loved one has been harmed
Being A Supporter
As a friend of a survivor, you have an important role in their support. When a person is sexually assaulted their power has been taken away from them. Allow your friend to regain control by letting them make their own decisions moving forward.
Remember to take care of yourself. You may feel a range of emotions from being a supporter. You can reach out to Safer if you are experiencing any difficulties in coping with your friend’s experience. If you want to talk to someone in more detail, make an appointment with Safer.
How You Can Help:
- Let them know they are not alone and thank them for sharing with you.
- State that you believe them and validate their feelings.
- Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance. Safer is centrally located on campus and is available to listen and answer any questions or concerns they may have.
- Support your friend’s decision to report or not. Reporting is a deeply personal decision for some people, and is sometimes not their most immediate need.
- Listen without judgment. Try not to ask too many questions about the incident and leave the investigating to the professionals.
- Keep in mind it is normal for survivors to have a range of reactions, including depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal, impaired memory, even an increase in risk-taking behavior, such as over- intoxication and sexual behavior.
- Do not confront an alleged offender. This may result in escalation of violence or retaliation.
- Protect your friend’s privacy, do not share their experience with family or friends without their expressed permission.
If your friend is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911.
Special Concerns for Sexual Assault:
- Encourage them to seek medical attention immediately, whether they decide to report or not.
Emergency contraception and STI screening is available for free or low-cost at many local clinics. Disclaimer: Make sure if they do not want to report, that they do not disclose their assault to a medical professional. Medical professionals are mandated reporters to law enforcement, and they will call the police to the facility if they suspect abuse.
- If you believe that they may want to report in the future, encourage them to preserve evidence. Read more about this in the What To Do If… You Have Been Sexually Assaulted section.
Special Concerns for Dating or Domestic Violence:
- Be aware of the cycle of violence and the various types of abuse, and recognize how your friend may be experiencing the cycle in their current relationship. Reassure your friend the abuse is not their fault. (link to Get Educated – Intimate Partner Violence page)
- Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them, the power and influence their abuser has over them already causes a massive amount of stress. Do your best to not add to the stress they are under.
- Help them develop a safety plan.
- This may include offering a safe place to stay, using a “safe word” during phone calls or texts, keeping a journal about incidences of abuse.
- Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship and offer to go with them. Let them know that it is OK to make new friends and try new activities.
- Remember you cannot “rescue” them.
- Make clear statements of your friend’s value and rights, “No one deserves to be treated that way.”
- Do not criticize their abuser. Survivors often has conflicting feelings about their abusive partner. Critique may cause your friend to shut down or become defensive.
- Do not confront the abuser. Do not slip a referral card or any other information about abuse into someone's bag or under a door. If the abuser finds this, it can also escalate the violence against the victim.
- Do not send a voicemail message or an email message about the abuse to your friend. You do not know if the abuser is monitoring the phone or the computer.
- Be careful for yourself. Let your friend know what you are comfortable doing and what your boundaries are. You can also get support for yourself from the resources on and off-campus.
Special Concerns for Stalking:
- Do not minimize cyberstalking. If you or your friend are being made to feel uncomfortable, then something is wrong.
- Encourage your friend to save a copy of all harassing messages and to document any actions that happen in person, including dates and times if possible.
- Encourage them to block the person that is sending harassing messages on all forms of communication, if possible.
- Make sure that Location Services are turned off on their devices.
- Create a safety plan.
- This may include walking them between classes or home, checking in with them periodically, making sure they know where they can go to get resources, such as Safer.