Fountains in the morning near Furman Hall

How Can I Support My Friend?

Whether you wish to support a friend who has been assaulted or a friend who has been accused of sexual misconduct, you may struggle with what to say and how to respond.  You may be in a situation in which you know both parties involved.  In general, listening in a nonjudgmental way and encouraging your friend to connect with resources can be helpful.  A few other suggestions are the following:

  1.  Remember that as a friend, you may only hear one side of the story, when multiple sides exist.  You do not need to judge what happened.  Listen in a nonjudgmental way and support your friend.
  2. Encourage your friend to connect with resources.
  3. You may have emotions of shock, denial, uncertainty, concern, fear, or betrayal.  Whatever feelings you have are appropriate, and you should allow yourself space to process them.  Consider seeking counseling or other support for yourself.
  4. Educate yourself about sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and harassment.

While you should let your friend decide how much information they want to share, the following are some helpful phrases and questions that may encourage your friend to talk:

  • What do you want to do?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • Do you want me to help you get more information about your options for the next steps?
  • It sounds like you feel ________.
  • What I’m hearing you say is _____.
  • What can I do to support you?

Complainants

If your friend tells you they have been sexually assaulted or experienced some other form of sexual misconduct:

Students often turn to friends for support after an assault, and sometimes friends are unsure how best to be supportive. The way you respond to a friend’s disclosure about sexual misconduct could impact their healing and their willingness to report the misconduct and connect with resources for support.  A sexual assault is an intimate violation and a traumatic experience that affects not just the survivor but all of the people in the survivor’s life. Although there is no single “right” way to respond, the following are a few suggestions for how you can support a friend after an assault.

  1. Stay calm. Expressing outrage and shock may cause your friend further trauma. Remaining calm will create a safer environment for him or her to talk.
  2. Allow your friend to lead the conversation. Allow her or him to tell you as much or as little as she is ready to tell. Do not press for details about the assault. Your friend may not want to recall or to share intimate details.
  3. Let your friend know that what happened was not their fault. It is NEVER the victim’s fault when someone forces sex on her or him. An assault is a crime caused by the person who committed it. Many sexual assault survivors question their own actions after an assault and feel they are somehow responsible for what happened. They wonder whether there was something they could have done to prevent the assault.
  4. Reassure your friend that you love and support them.
  5. Do not try to “investigate” what happened or discuss what happened with others, even if they know about the assault.  As a friend, you can be supportive without trying to examine the details of what happened.
  6. Be Patient. Understand that because anger and frustration cannot be taken out on the offender, survivors may release their feelings on loved ones. Old problems may get worse and new ones may arise.
  7. Do not tell your friend what to do differently in the future or ask “why” they did something. In an effort to protect, sometimes loved ones try to advise survivors what they believe they should do differently in the future (not drink alcohol, not go out with those friends anymore, not trust people they don’t know, etc.). This advice can make the survivor feel like they were at fault for the assault, that it would not have occurred if they had done something different. Asking “why” he or she did something (“Why did you leave the bar with that person?” or “Why were you alone?”) can have the same effect and may make your friend feel that they were at fault.
  8. Give your friend control and support his or her decisions. During an assault, all power is taken from the person being assaulted. The healing process after an assault begins with reclaiming that power. Who to tell about the assault, whether to prosecute and other decisions belong to the survivor. You may encourage your friend to report the assault or to seek therapy, but support them, even if their decision is not the decision you wish they would make.
  9. Do not touch your friend without permission. Be sensitive to the fact that physical touch may startle them and may trigger flashbacks or intrusive memories of the assault. Ask before initiating physical contact.
  10. Encourage your friend to seek counseling. However, the decision of whether to seek counseling ultimately is your friend’s decision to make. Encourage them to pursue counseling but support them in whatever decision they make.
  11. Respect your friend’s privacy and maintain confidentiality. Decisions about whether to tell and whom to tell belong to your friend. It is not for you to tell people about the assault unless your friend expressly asks you to do so.
  12. Violence and retaliation are not appropriate and are not helpful to you or your friend.
  13. Everyone will have different reactions and will process the situation differently.  Allow for space, for sharing and for healing for everyone.

Respondants

If your friend tells you they have been accused of sexual misconduct:

If someone you know and care about is accused of sexual assault, intimate partner violence or some other form of sexual misconduct, it can be difficult to process how you should respond and how to support them, despite not supporting the conduct for which they have been accused.  It is likely that you have questions and may be struggling to understand what happened.  The following are a few suggestions for how you can support your friend:

  1. Remember that there is typically more than one perspective regarding what happened, and your friend very likely has a different perspective than the person who reported the misconduct.
  2. You are not expected to approve of an accused person’s actions, opinions or decisions.  You can still be there to support them as a friend, even if you disagree with some actions they took or are accused of having taken.  You also can be supportive of someone as a friend and treat them with dignity, but also hold them accountable for actions, opinions or decisions.
  3. Stay calm. Expressing outrage and shock, even if you are trying to be supportive, may cause your friend further stress. Remaining calm will create a safer environment for him or her to talk.
  4. Allow your friend to lead the conversation and tell you as much as they are comfortable sharing.
  5. Reassure your friend that you love and support them.
  6. Do not try to “investigate” what happened or discuss what happened with others, even if they know about the assault.  As a friend, you can be supportive without trying to examine the details of what happened.  The legal system, Title IX office or others will determine whether or not sexual misconduct has occurred—that is not your responsibility or role.
  7. Encourage your friend to seek counseling. However, the decision about whether to seek counseling ultimately is your friend’s decision to make. Encourage them to pursue counseling but support them in whatever decision they make.
  8. Respect your friend’s privacy and maintain confidentiality. Decisions about whether to tell and whom to tell belong to your friend. It is not for you to tell people about the allegations unless your friend expressly asks you to do so.
  9. Violence and retaliation are not appropriate and are not helpful to you, your friend or the person who reported the concerns.  Encourage your friend to make good choices and abide by aby restrictions imposed by the university or police.
  10. Everyone will have different reactions and will process the situation differently.  Allow for space, for sharing and for healing for everyone.