How to Help as a Friend
As the friend of a survivor, you are likely deeply affected by the pain that your friend is experiencing and greatly wish to help them through this difficult time. It is important to recognize that there is no road map or instruction manual for dealing with a survivor of sexual assault. People's reactions to this type of trauma vary greatly between individuals.
Some may completely break down while others may take extra care in making everything appear normal in an attempt to regain some control of the situation. It's difficult to know how to react to these varied responses but here are some strategies that you may find useful as you seek to help your friend recover from this trauma:
- Believe your friend
- Remember that it's often very difficult for a survivor to come forward and share their story and your reaction may have an impact on whether or not they choose to continue to share this information with others and seek further support. Tell your friend that you believe them and you want to support them in any way that you can.
- Respect privacy and confidentiality
- Don't share your friend's story with others unless you have that person's permission to do so.
- It is natural when listening to a story to want to ask questions and get details about what transpired. In this situation however, it is best to allow the survivor to control what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident. You should listen actively and non-judgmentally. Reiterate that you are there to listen and support and allow the survivor to dictate when and how much they wish to say.
- Assure your friend that it is not his or her fault
- Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as their friend, you help the survivor understand that no matter what happened—it was not their fault.
- Allow your friend to control next steps
- It is natural to want to try to fix the problem but know that healing from this event will take a great deal of time and your friend must maintain the ability to choose how they wish to go about that healing process. You may provide advice, guidance and information about their options for additional support, but allow your friend to decide if, when and how they will pursue these resources. If your friend is hesitant to get help from any outside sources, even those that you know are supportive and helpful, offer to go with her/him. Sometimes that's all it takes to help a friend begin to take action.
- Don't forget to support yourself
- Supporting a friend through a trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role as well. Recognize this and don't hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it. You cannot effectively support your friend without being mindful of your own health and well-being.
Most of the resources listed in the Resources section of this site are available to both survivors and those supporting survivors. Don’t hesitate to use them to educate yourself about sexual assault and the options that exist for survivors, and don’t hesitate to use them for your own support and self-care.