As a Friend
A friend can make all the difference to a survivor
If your friend is the victim of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking or sexual harassment, you probably want nothing more than to help them. Keep in mind there’s no instruction manual for helping a victim. Everyone is different. There’s no right or wrong reaction to trauma. Your friend might completely shut down or go out of their way to seem “normal” – like nothing happened. But even in the midst of feeling sad, angry, uncomfortable, scared, confused or powerless, there are safe, healthy ways to support your friend and yourself during this difficult time.
It takes courage for your friend to speak up. The single most important thing you can do to support your friend is to tell them that you believe them and are there for them. Your friend is vulnerable, and your reaction can influence whether or not they choose to share information with others, including the police or mental and physical health counseling services. Stay calm and non-judgmental. Tell your friend you believe them and want to support them however you can.
Listen actively and without judgment. As a friend, your job is to listen, not investigate or question their account. Avoid asking questions or digging for details. It’s best to allow your friend to control what information they share. It might be difficult, but try to just listen.
Assure your friend that it’s not their fault –no matter what. Self-blame and self-doubt are common reactions of victims of sexual violence. As their friend, assure and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
Unless they give you permission to share or you’re contacted as a witness in an investigation, maintaining your friend’s privacy can be one of the most helpful things you can do for them. This includes not sharing what happened with mutual friends or on social media.
Let Your Friend Take the Lead
It’s completely natural to want to fix things. That’s probably what makes you a good friend. But know that dealing with and recovery from sexual assault or relationship violence is not fast and not in your control. A great step for you to take would be to offer advice or information about support services at UCF but the decision to get additional help is up to your friend. If your friend is anxious or scared to seek help from outside sources – even those you know could help – offer to go with them as their support system. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give them the confidence to take action.
While maintaining your friend’s privacy is very important, if your friend will not seek support and you are very worried about their wellbeing, reach out yourself to one of the support services at UCF, who will be able to talk with you more about the situation and offer suggestions.
You matter too. Supporting a friend who is dealing with trauma can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. Remember that you cannot effectively support your friend unless you take care of your own emotional, physical and mental health. Most of the resources available to your friend are available to you too.