Helping a friend who may have been sexually assaulted
Support. Try to be the best friend you can. Your friend is feeling a lot of emotions right now, probably including loneliness and isolation, so offering gentle, consistent, nonjudgmental friendship is key.
Safety. It is important to ensure that your friend is not going to do something to hurt himself or herself or somebody else. If you are worried about anyone’s safety, you must get help even if your friend does not want you to tell anyone. Contact any of the resources listed under Seeking care and seeking action to share your concerns.
Believe your friend. More than almost anything, your friend needs your trust. Don’t ask “why” questions such as: “Why did you…?” or “Why didn’t you …?” “Why” questions tend to make people feel guilty. Be sure not to blame, and don’t search for things s/he could have done differently.
Let your friend make the decisions. Sexual assault takes away the survivor’s sense of power. Throughout the healing process, let your friend make his or her own decisions. S/he may want to be taken care of, and you may want to offer care, but it is important that you only present options and give your friend the power to make his or her own decisions. Be supportive of the decisions s/he makes.
Don’t define the experience. Do not label the event “rape” or “sexual assault." It is the right of the survivor to make sense of his or her experience without needing to make it conform to predefined categories.
Do not assume the person who assaulted your friend is of the opposite sex. Same-sex sexual assault is seldom talked about but it is just as painful, whether your friend identifies as gay, straight, bisexual or questioning.
Show that you want to listen. Remember that someone has violated your friend’s sense of trust, so one of the most important things you can do is to respect your friend’s need to confide in someone.
Respect your friend’s privacy. Whatever s/he tells you is his or her information to share. Telling someone else is a breach of trust, unless you have significant concerns for his or her immediate safety. If you feel the need to talk, make an appointment with a counselor for yourself.
Encourage your friend to get medical attention as soon as possible, and to seek counseling and support. Your friend can get care through the resources listed on Seeking care and seeking action. Please see If you have been sexually assaulted for important details about medical attention and services.
Assure your friend that when a person does not stop pursuing a sexual encounter when consent has not been given, that person is wrong, not the survivor. Remind them that many sexual assaults do not involve physical force, but take place when a survivor is incapacitated.
Care for yourself. While a survivor's need for support is often assumed, it might be less apparent when friends of the survivor need help dealing with the trauma. "Secondary victimization" sometimes refers to the negative effects experienced by those who are not the direct targets of a violent act, but who are intimately involved in supporting a survivor. These effects often include shock and disbelief; feeling of rage and helplessness; fear for the survivor’s safety; preoccupation with the violent event and its aftermath; difficulties in your relationship with the survivor; responses to past trauma triggered by the current situation; and loss of security and trust. Remember that it is just as important to care for yourself in times of stress as it is to care for others, and seek support from someone you trust, including any of the resources available on this website.