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. Help your friend to regain control by letting them make their own decisions moving forward.
In addition, remember to take care of yourself. You may feel a range of emotions from being a supporter, and 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.
- Tell them you believe them and validate their feelings.
- Encourage them to talk to an advocate who can provide help and guidance. Safer is located on campus and a confidential advocate 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 challenging and 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 or try investigating.
- Ask them before you do things. For example, if you want to hug them, ask them if you can.
- 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 hyper-sexual behavior.
- Do not confront an alleged offender. This may result in escalation of violence or retaliation.
- Protect your friend’s privacy and do not share their experience with anyone without their expressed permission.
- Remind them that they never have to share their story to anyone if they do not want to. That includes other friends, family, university officials, or law enforcement.
- Follow up with your friend. Make sure they know that you care and will continue to be there for them.
If your friend is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911.
Things you can say:
When talking with a friend in need, knowing what to say can be difficult. Instead of asking too many questions, use helpful phrases like these:
- It’s not your fault
- I believe you
- Thank you for telling me
- How can I help you?
- I’ll support your choices
- You are not alone
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 file a report to the police, 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.
- Remind them that they have a right to have any advocate present during any interactions with medical providers, law enforcement, and university officials.
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. Learn more about intimate partner violence here.
- Do not criticize their decision to stay in a relationship or try to guilt them into leaving if they are not feeling safe to do so. 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. You can contact Safer to get help in developing a plan.
- 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 that you cannot “rescue” them.
- Make clear statements of your friend’s value and rights, such as “No one deserves to be treated that way.”
- Do not criticize their abuser. Survivors often have 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 escalate the violence against the victim.
- Do not send a voicemail message or an email message about the abuse to your friend. It is possible that the abuser is monitoring their 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 Safer and 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, like Safer.
Taking Care of Yourself
- It is important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as you support a loved one. As a supporter of someone who is a victim of sexual violence, it is not uncommon for you to experience distressing emotions that are similar to those of the survivor, including anger, shock, and guilt. Take time to process these emotions and take breaks for yourself. While it is good to express your emotions to the survivor as a form of validation, it is important that you do not rely on the survivor themselves for emotional support.
- Intensely experiencing emotions and being overwhelmed by them as a result of your role as a supporter can be a sign of vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma occurs when friends, family members, or colleagues of individuals that have experienced a form of trauma, including sexual violence, struggle with changes to their states of mental or physical well-being. A supporter may experience difficulty managing their emotions, managing boundaries, maintaining relationships, or other symptoms. Addressing vicarious trauma is vital in helping yourself and helping the survivor.
- Learn more about vicarious trauma and the signs here.
- Be aware that Safer and other programs offer support to you as well, along with guidance on how to best help your friend and take care of yourself.
- For more tips on self-care, visit here.