If you have any questions on how to assist a friend who is a survivor of sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking, please contact VPAC.
The greatest fear of survivors is that they will not be believed or that their experience will be minimized as “not important.” Remember that it is four times more likely to raped by someone you know than by a stranger. Accept what you hear – even if the person accussed is a popular and nice, or even if the survivor appears confused and unable to put their thoughts together clearly, no one reacts to trauma in the same way. They may appear either calm and collected, or very emotional. Both extremes are normal reactions. Also, a sexual assault that does not involve a completed rape can be as traumatic as a rape, so treat any sexual assault survivor with the same care and concern.
Let your friend talk and tell the story at her/his own speed. Be patient if he/she is silent and just needs you to sit with her/him. Reinforce that the incident was not the their fault. Avoid questions that seem to blame the survivor such as ‘Why didn’t you scream?” and “Why did you go to his room?” and “Why don’t you just break up?” Allow the survivor to talk out feelings of self-blame, but help her/him to see that the perpetrator is solely responsible for the assault.
…If he/she wants to report the incident. Reporting an assault does not necessarily mean pressing charges – that decision is made later, but it is important to collect evidence to keep that option open. If the survivor was sexually assaulted obtaining a post-assault examination through the 24-hour SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) is highly recommended. This exam should be done as soon as possible (within 72-96 hours) and if possible, the survivor should not eat, drink, wash, brush teeth, or change or destroy clothes. For more information about reporting to Campus Safety click here or the medical forensic exam click here or contact the 24/7 JCU hotline at 216.397.CALL.
… If he/she wants to seek medical attention. Survivors of sexual assault are at risk for internal injuries (which may not be immediately apparent), sexually transmitted infections and/or diseases, and unwanted pregnancy. Even for those assaulted less recently, testing for sexually transmitted infections that may have no obvious symptoms is essential. Encourage your friend to speak to a nurse or doctor regardless of when the assault occurred.
…What can you do to make them feel more comfortable or safe. Most importantly remember not to make any decisions for them. As a result of the incident power and control was taken away from your friend. It is important that you now empower them to decide what options they will pursue.
Suggest that the survivor seek counseling and other support services. This does not mean the victim must report the rape to the police. A trained counselor can guide the survivor through the first critical hours after an assault. Support services are also available for those who have been sexually assaulted in the past. Explain what resources are available to the survivor and allow him/her to make a decision about what is best. You can also offer to go with them.
Extra tips on how to help a friend in an abusive relationship…
- Don’t be afraid to tell your friend that you’re concerned. You can point out that the behavior is not normal and that he/she deserves a healthy relationship.
- Refer him/her to resources that can assist in developing a safety plan, such as Safe Space: Violence Prevention and Action Center or the Domestic Violence Center.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t ask questions like, “Why don’t you just break up?” Respect your friend’s decision to stay or to leave. Many individuals leave and return to abusive relationships multiple times. It is important to support him/her regardless of what you think is best.