Helping a Friend/Loved One

As a friend or loved one of a survivor, you play an important role in their healing process. 

When a person is sexually assaulted, their power is taken away from them. You can help your friend to regain control by empowering them to make their own decisions about things like reporting the incident, getting medical care, telling other people, etc. It can be very difficult for someone to come forward after a trauma and share their experience with people in their lives. There can be so much shame, guilt, anger, confusion, fear of blame, and many other emotions. When someone chooses to disclose what happened to them, they are looking for support and validation. By responding in an empowering and empathetic way, you can have a positive impact on their recovery and healing. 

It’s also important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as you support a loved one. As a supporter of someone who has experienced sexual violence, it is not uncommon for you to experience distressing emotions that are similar to those of the survivor. 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. If you are struggling with your own emotional wellbeing, you can make an appointment with Safer or the counseling center.  

How You Can Help

  1. Actively listen 

    • Believe them. The most important thing you can do when someone is disclosing an instance of gender- and power-based violence is to let them know that you believe them. Try to avoid asking questions that victim-blame and discount their experience such as, “What were you wearing?” or “Didn’t you try to fight them off?”
    • Listen without judgment. Oftentimes, all a survivor is looking for is a listening ear. Show them you are listening by mirroring their body language and being fully present and not interrupting them when they are speaking. Try to avoid giving advice and asking for more details than they are willing to share. 
  2. Respond in an empowering way 

    • Thank them for sharing. The survivor chose to disclose to you because they trust you. It’s important to thank them for their courage to share.
    • Validate their feelings. There is no right or wrong way to respond to sexual violence; everyone’s experience is different. Let the survivor know that everything they are feeling and their reaction to the experience is valid. 
    • Let them know it’s not their fault. There are many narratives in our society that victim blame and this can lead the survivor to think it's their fault they got assaulted and/or abused. No matter the circumstances, no one deserves to experience assault or abuse and it’s important to reassure the survivor that it was not their fault.  
    • Protect their privacy. Let your friend know that their story is safe with you and that you will not tell anyone without their permission. That includes other friends, family, university officials, or law enforcement. 
  3. Offer resources 

    • Know your local resources. Let the survivor know that there are many resources available to them. Offer the option of making an appointment with Safer to speak with a confidential advocate or offer other local resources. Let the survivor know that you will assist them in any way that is helpful but make sure you aren’t taking over. It is important that the survivor decides what steps they would like to take next.  
  4. Check-in on them  

    • Follow up with them. Make sure that you follow up with the survivor so that they know they have ongoing support. Be accepting of where they are at in their healing journey and let them know you are there for them. 

If your friend is at risk of hurting themselves, you can call or refer them to:  

  • National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255 
  • SLO Mental Health Hotline at (800) 783-0607

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:

  • I’m so sorry you had to experience that.  
  • I can’t imagine how you feel right now. 
  • It’s not your fault.  
  • You deserve to be treated with respect. 
  • You are not alone.  
  • I support your choices.  
  • Thank you for telling me. 
  • How can I help you? 

Special Concerns

for Sexual Assault

If a friend discloses an instance of sexual assault to you, there are some additional considerations to be aware of, such as reporting to law enforcement, requesting a forensic medical exam, and reporting to Title IX. You can read more about reporting to law enforcement and medical forensic exams to help inform your response or reassure the survivor that they can speak to a confidential advocate who can walk them through the process and help them make a decision.  

for Intimate Partner Violence

If a friend discloses an instance of domestic violence to you, your primary concern should be their safety as they may be at risk of further violence. You can read more about the cycle of violence and safety planning to help inform your response, or reassure the survivor that they can speak to a confidential advocate who can walk them through the process and help them make a decision. You can also provide them with information about reporting to Title IX or law enforcement.  

for Stalking

If a friend discloses an instance of stalking to you, it is important to take it seriously. Stalking is more common than most people think and it can become dangerous quickly. You can read more about stalking and cyberstalking to help inform your response, or provide them with information about reporting to Title IX or law enforcement. You can also reassure the survivor that they can speak to a confidential advocate who can walk them through the process and help them make a decision. 

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