Sexual Misconduct Reporting & Referral Forms
How to Help a Friend
It is not easy for someone to disclose an experience of sexual or interpersonal violence. When someone trusts you and has the courage to share their experience with you, it is important for you to be supportive and non-judgmental.
Here are some specific phrases and actions that are recommended to be supportive throughout a victim’s/survivor’s healing process:
- “I believe you. It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be difficult for victims/survivors to come forward and share their story. They may be worried they won’t be believed or will be blamed for what happened to them. Your job is to support them. Validate their feelings. The victim/survivor likely came to you because they trust you. Let them know that you believe them and are there for them.
- Avoid victim blaming. Victim blaming occurs when a victim/survivor is made to feel responsible for what happened to them. Reinforce that the victim/survivor is not to blame. The person at fault for the assault is always the perpetrator.
- “It is not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Victims/Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they knew the perpetrator personally. Reinforce that the assault was not their fault. They are not to blame for what happened.
- Avoid asking questions that pry for information. The victim/survivor will share with you what they are comfortable sharing. Avoid “why” questions that may imply that the assault was the victim’s/survivor’s fault.
- Listen. Listen without judging. Give them time and space. Let the victim/survivor tell you how they feel. Don’t press the victim/survivor for details. It is important to give the victim/survivor control of their story and what they are sharing with you. Being a good listener shows support and empathy.
- Use inclusive language that affirms the survivor’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Rather than assuming someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, use neutral language like “partner” or “date” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend.” Try not to assume what someone’s gender identity or preferred pronouns are; it’s a better idea to let them tell you, or you can ask what they prefer. You can always use “they” instead of “he/she” if you are unsure.
- “I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that this experience has affected their life. Offer your support so that the victim/survivor knows they are not alone.
- Avoid touching or hugging the victim/survivor, unless they say it is okay. This may seem like a natural comforting instinct, but when an individual has experienced an assault, this can be re-traumatizing. Ask the victim/survivor for their consent before offering physical support.
- Help to educate them about their options. Victims/Survivors have several options after an assault. They may want to seek medical attention, speak with a professional counselor or an advocate, or report the assault to the authorities. You do not need to be an expert on all options available to victims/survivors. Offer your support in helping the victim/survivor get in touch with the right professional.
*Information adapted from RAINN: Tips for Talking with Survivors, Cornell Health: Helping a Friend Who Has Been Raped or Sexually Assaulted, RAINN: LGBTQ Survivors, and Boston University Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center