Help a Friend

It can be difficult to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted.

Listening & Talking

One of the most important things you can do to support your friend is to listen calmly and nonjudgmentally. Here are some ways to practice active listening:

  • Mirror your friend’s language by avoiding using more or less ‘severe’ language than they do, and allow your friend to label their own experience.
  • Maintain eye contact and mirror your friend’s body language to show that you are paying attention.
  • Ask open-ended questions about what your friend wants to do or talk about. Let them lead the conversation.
  • Repeat back what your friend has said, being mindful to use their words. For example, “I’m hearing you say...is that right?” If you are paraphrasing their feelings, always include a disclaimer, such as, “it sounds like…”
  • Avoid asking “why” questions. For example, “what’s making you feel sad?” is better than “why are you sad?”
  • Validate their responses and make sure they know that what they’re feeling is normal.

It can be hard to know what to say, especially if you are processing your own reactions or you are worried about saying the wrong thing. It is okay to be honest with your friend when you are not sure what to say. Here are some examples of supportive, nonjudgmental ways to show your friend you are there for them:

In response to their story

  • “I believe you.”
  • “I’m sorry that this happened.”
  • “The way you’re feeling is totally understandable/makes complete sense.”
  • “You are not alone in this.”
  • “I’m here for you in whatever way you need.”
  • “Thank you for sharing with me.”

To check in or start a conversation

  • “What do you want to talk about?”
  • “How are you feeling today?”
  • “I am here to listen whenever you are ready to talk.”
  • “Do you want me to offer feedback or just listen?”

To provide support

  • “Is there anything that I can do to make it easier?”
  • “Is there something you can do that usually makes you feel safe/calm/happy?”
  • “I will support any decision you make.”
  • “Your only responsibility is to your own healing.”

Dos & Do Nots

DO:

  • Make sure your friend is physically well and safe.
  • Believe your friend’s story.
  • Listen and let your friend lead the conversation.
  • Empower your friend to make their own decisions even if you would respond differently.
  • Educate yourself about available resources and let your friend know they have options.
  • Encourage them to seek support.
  • Ask open-ended questions about what your friend wants to do or talk about.
  • Mirror your friend’s language and allow them to label their own experience.
  • Respect their confidentiality, and ask before you share their story with anyone else.
  • Validate your friend’s emotions and make sure they know that whatever they’re feeling is okay.

DO NOT:

  • Blame your friend for what happened; rape is only ever the fault of the rapist and sexual assault is only ever the fault of the offender.
  • Confront the person accused of committing the assault.
  • Pass judgment; recognize your own biases about sexuality and sexual assault.
  • Pressure your friend to report the incident.
  • Ask prying questions about the details of the incident.
  • Compare their experiences to your own or to other experiences you’ve heard about.
  • Try to “fix” the situation; sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen.
  • Ignore your own feelings and reactions.

Taking Care of Yourself

To be a support for someone else, it is important that you are taking care of your own needs as well. Typically there are counseling centers on campus available for anyone impacted by sexual assault, including friends or acquaintances. The following suggestions are found on rainn.org.

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