Supporting a Friend Who Has Experienced Sexual Violence

Sexual violence can refer to a huge number of things including, but not limited to rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and childhood sexual abuse.  For more information on sexual violence click here.  For information on healing from sexual violence as well as some more information on the after effects click here.

If you think you have been sexually assaulted or if you think a friend of yours has been sexually assaulted click here.

Basic Principles of Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Violence

Safety First

The most important thing to do is make sure the person is safe.  If they have recently been assaulted click on the link above. 

Restore Choice

An aspect of sexual abuse is the loss of power over ones body.  As supporting friends, we often want to take care of people by taking control when they may be disassociated or panicking, doing so may increase the trigger or worsen the situation.  Restoring their choice by asking them what they need or what you can do and then doing what they say can be incredibly powerful.  For example, you might ask if you can get them a cup of water.  If they say no, don't do it.  If they ask you to leave, leave.  If you are worried about their safety, stay nearby but respect their wish to be alone.  People who have experienced abuse usually know what is best for them.

Listen

Ask them if there is anything you can do to make them feel more comfortable or help them get through telling you their story.  Listen to their story with an open mind.  Avoid judging them or blaming them.  Reflect back what they are telling you to make sure you are understanding them.  While hearing someone's story may be incredibly difficult and you may find yourself feeling hurt, angry, or betrayed, remember that it is not about you.  It takes a lot of strength to tell your story and while you may want to express your anger or frustration, it can make them feel shut down or judged.

Really listen and thank them for their courage to share.  When they finish, a simple "I support you" or "I believe you" is the most important thing you can say.

Be Patient

It can take a long time for someone to be ready to tell their story.  It is important not to pressure them to tell before they are ready.  Giving them the space to tell when they are ready can help them feel safer and put the choice in thier hands.

Resources

Find out what resources are available for your friend and for you.  Provide this for your friend and check them out yourself.  Offer to seek out help together.

Remember

Their choice whether or not to tell you or when to tell you is not about you.  Sometimes the best thing to do is tell them that you are there and that you support them. 

Learn More

Read books, zines, and/or the section on our website on sexual violence to better understand what they may be experiencing and why.

Take Care of Yourself

It can be incredibly difficult to hear someone's story or to be with them when they are triggered.  It is very important to take care of yourself and make sure that you are in a good place to support them.    If you remain open to them coming to you without pressuring them, it will feel safer for them.

Starting a Conversation

Knowing the best way to approach a friend if you believe something may be going on can be incredibly difficult.  Unfortunately, there is no "best way;" however, here are some sentence starter suggestions that may or may not fit your situation.

In the Moment

After the Fact

Resources

Here are some resources to check out yourself or present to a friend.

RISE Project

Provides private, non-judgemental support for students who have experienced violence and/or their friends, family, or roommates.  Contact information here.

Our VOICE

Asheville Rape Crisis Center.  Provides free counseling for those who have experienced violence and/or for their friends, family, or roommates.

24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 828.255.7576
Phone: 828.252.0562
Location: 44 Merrimon Ave, Suite 1, Asheville, NC 28801

RAINN.org

Online resouce.  Provide support and resoucres for people who have experienced violence as well as their friends, family, or others.