How to Help a Friend
How can I help a friend who has told me s/he was sexually abused?
Be a Friend
Of all the things you can do at this time, perhaps most important is to be yourself and to be the best friend you can be. Your friend is feeling a lot of emotions right now, probably including loneliness and isolation. So it is especially important for you to be there for support.
One of the first things you need to ensure is that your friend is safe from harm. You also need to ensure that they are not going to hurt her/himself or somebody else. If you are worried about anybody’s safety, you must get help even if your friend doesn’t want you to tell anyone. You must immediately contact Campus Safety (x2599), the Dean of Students Office (x2661) or Emergency On-Call Staff (through Campus Safety).
Believe your friend. Statistics show that there is no reason to think that s/he is lying about having been abused. More than almost anything, your friend needs your trust. Additionally, be sure not to blame your friend for suffering this abuse. No one asks to be abused. Maintaining your support of them and your confidentiality of their situation is very important. Confidentiality is important, but not as important as you and your friend’s safety.
Let Your Friend Make All the Decisions
In having been sexually assaulted, you friend has had all her/his power taken away. Throughout the healing process, you must let your friend make all her/his own decisions. S/he may want to be taken care of, but it is important that you only present options and give your friend the power to make his or her own decisions.
Don’t Define the Experience
As part of helping and giving the survivor the ability to make her/his own decisions, it is important that s/he be allowed to define the experience. Do not label the experience “rape” or “abuse” before the survivor is willing and able to do so. Do not assume the person who assaulted your friend is of the opposite sex. Same-sex sexual assault is seldom talked about, but is just as painful, whether your friend identifies as gay, straight, bisexual, or questioning.
It is very difficult to hear stories about sexual violence. Throughout this process, remember to take care of yourself, to find someone to talk to, and to get counseling if necessary. Any of the resources available to survivors are more than welcoming of friends as well. In order to learn how to help your friend, you may want to consider contacting Project S.A.F.E. (323) 341-4750, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Project S.A.F.E. in the Center for Gender Equity.