University of Vermont

How can I support a Friend who has been Sexually Assaulted?

Not every person who experiences violence will come forward to disclose or share their story. If you start seeing changes in behavior from a friend, colleague, employee, etc. such as difficulty concentrating, frequent absences from classes or work, and/or a decline in academic or work performance, consider whether it might be related to sexual violence, relationship violence and/or stalking.

The most important things that you can do if someone confides in you about an incident of violence are to listen and believe. You should encourage your friend to connect with the Campus Victim's Advocate, Title IX Coordinator, and/or Police Services.

What Should I Do?

Listen.

  • Some survivors will want to talk about their experiences.  Keep their privacy.  It is a survivor's decision when and whether to tell others about what happened.  Don’t push them to reveal details about the incident or ask questions just because you're curious.

Believe.

  • Survivors need to know that you believe what happened. It's rare that people make up stories about sexual assault.
  • Don’t question details of the assault.  If the perpetrator is someone you know, don't say, "I can't believe they would do that!"
  • Important things to communicate to the survivor:
    • "It's not your fault."
    • "I'm sorry it happened."
    • “I’m here to help and support you.”

Validate the survivor’s feelings.

  • Acknowledge their sadness, anger, fear, or confusion.  Let them know that all of these feelings are normal after a sexual assault.  Assure them that they aren't alone.
  • If a survivor was drunk during the assault, assure them that they aren't to blame for what happened.
  • If a survivor feels guilty because they didn't fight back, assure them that fear sometimes inhibits us.
  • Tell them that they did the best they could to survive the situation and that no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
  • Don’t blame survivors for what happened by asking them things like why they were drinking, why they didn't fight back, what they were wearing, or by telling them what you would have done.
  • Let survivors control their own lives.

    • Provide survivors with information about their options, and if they choose one, support them by providing phone numbers or information.
    • Don’t try to take control of the situation. Let them make decisions for themself and assure them that you will support whatever decision they make.
    • Don't threaten to hurt the perpetrator; the survivor has lived through one violent experience and does not need to be confronted with another.

    Stay with them through the healing process.

    • Express your concern over the long run. Healing takes time.
    • Talk about other aspects of survivors' lives. This reassures survivors that there is more to them than surviving a sexual assault.
    • Survivors will have good and difficult days. Stay with them through both.

    Find support for yourself.

Last modified February 19 2014 03:03 PM