Supporting a Friend
While the experience of each survivor is unique, there are some important points to keep in mind when offering support.
- Validate feelings. Listen non-judgmentally to what your friend is saying and validate the significance of the event. Do not minimize the trauma they have shared that they experienced.
- Assure them that it is not their fault. Self-blame is common. It is important that you help your friend understand that no matter what happened--it was not their fault.
- Tend to needs. Ask how you can help. Encourage your friend to seek medical attention, emotional and psychological support, and ensure their safety. If your friend is hesitant to get help, offer to accompany them in seeking medical attention, counseling, going to the police or to the Title IX Coordinator. Reassure them that someone is available to them 24 hours a day.
- Be a good listener. You may want to ask questions and get details about what happened, but remember that your role is to support, and it is best to allow your friend to decide what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident.
- Know that each person's experience is unique. If you know of or have experienced other instances of sexual misconduct, avoid making comparisons. Individuals can experience and react to trauma very differently, so it's important to be sensitive to whatever emotions they might be feeling.
- Give control. Let them choose the next steps. You may provide advice, guidance, and information about their options, but allow them to decide if, when, and how they will pursue these resources. Accept their decisions even if you disagree.
- Respect privacy. Do not share their story with other people unless you need to do so for safety reasons or as part of a formal investigation. At the same time, never hestitate to seek advice from individuals who are in a position to help you. It is not necessary to give names or provide details to get initial support and learn about options.
- Check in. Recognize that your friend's needs may change over time, so keep "checking in" to renew your offer of help and support. If they communicate that they need some space, respect that need as well. Be patient and let them recover at their own rate. It may take weeks, months, or years. Recovery from sexual misconduct is often a long, difficult process.
- Support yourself. Supporting someone through a trauma can be difficult and emotionally draining experience. Resources on campus and in the community can give you advice on how to help someone and offer you support services as well.
Things you can say:
It is hard to know what to say when someone confides in you. Refrain from asking a lot of questions, instead, support them with these phrases:
- "I believe you"
- "It's not your fault"
- "I'm sorry this happened"
- "How can I help you?"
- "How does that make you feel?"
- "I'm glad you told me"
- "I'll support your choices"
- "You're not alone"
- "You survived; you did the best you could under the circumstances"
- "What would you like to see happen?"