It can be hard to know what to do to help a friend or a family member who has experienced sexual violence or sexual harassment.
A survivor has experienced a violation and/or crime (or crimes) where s/he has lost control over the situation. It is natural to feel a tremendous loss of power and control over life during these times. Surviving sexual violence or sexual harassment is a testament of the individual’s strength; however, s/he may not feel strong. Below are some suggestions about how you can help.
What to say to a survivor:
- I’m sorry this happened to you.
- It wasn’t your fault.
- Thank you for telling me.
- Can I do anything for you?
- How can I support you?
What NEVER to say to a survivor:
- It was your fault.
- You could have avoided it had you _________ (e.g. been sober, stayed with your friends, locked your door, not led him/her on).
- You should not have ________ (e.g. walked alone at night, dressed provocatively, gone to his/her room, had so much to drink, kissed him/her).
- It’s been so long! Get over it!
- You wanted it.
- It’s not that big of deal; it happens to lots of people.
- I don’t believe you.
- He/she is such a nice person and couldn’t have done something like that.
- What did you do to provoke him/her?
- If you report him/her, you will ruin his/her future.
- You should have fought back.
- I would have ________ (done something differently than the survivor, e.g. fought back, ran away, screamed, called the police).
DO respect the survivor enough not to pity him/her.
DON’T assume s/he does/does not want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug at this point. Others can’t make it without one. Ask before touching.
DO comfort her/him. Make the environment comfortable.
DON’T try to solve all of their problems for him/her. S/he has had his/her control taken away. Try to avoid doing that again.
DO allow her/him to tell them as much or as little as they need.
DON’T assume you know how the survivor feels.
- Refer the survivor to the College’s Title IX website.
- Offer to gather information about options and who may be able to help.
- Be willing to say nothing. If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. The most powerful statement a friend can make is by simply being there, not trying to fix everything or pretending it’s okay. Silence often says more than words.
- Do not judge the survivor. An individual is likely examining him or herself very critically during this time. No matter what his/her behavior was prior to the assault, s/he is NOT responsible – the perpetrator is.
- Do not attempt to impose your explanation of why this has happened or try to “fix” the situation. You don’t have to fix the situation, you just have to be supportive.
- Remind survivors that their feelings are understandable.
- Do not attempt to reassure the person that everything is “Okay” or tell him/her you know how s/he feels.
- Do offer to gather information about who may be able to help.
- Do not feel intimidated by the intense emotions of survivors.
- Encourage the survivor to seek counseling and post-trauma services.
- Find your own support. You are also affected by this situation. You can’t support someone else if you aren’t supported as well. You cannot expect the survivor to provide support for you; find other friends, support people, or counseling to share your own feelings related to what happened to your friend.