Helping a Friend Who Experienced Sexual Misconduct
What will my friend be feeling?
Your friend may experience a variety of emotions including (but
not limited to) fear, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression,
and/or helplessness. Your friend may feel “dirty” or “ruined”.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel or react; sometimes a
‘survivor’ may just feel numb.
How should I respond to these feelings?
Listen. Listen. Listen. Your friend will have many feelings to talk about. Do not judge how s/he handled the situation or her/himself. No matter what the circumstances, no one gives a person a right to force sex onto another person.
A survivor needs support. Sexual misconduct is a traumatic experience. Therefore …
- Believe them! Remind them that it is not their fault.
- Suggest to them to get medical attention and counseling! Testing for pregnancy, STDs, and HIV is important.
- Let your friend make the decisions. All of his/her control has just been stripped. Make sure to empower your friend as much as possible by allowing him/her to decide what to do next and whom to tell. Don’t decide for your friend.
- Remain calm! You may not be calm on the inside but survivors need to feel those supporting them are in control.
- Absolutely preserve their confidentiality and privacy.
What if I don’t think I can handle hearing about the assault?
It is completely normal and understandable that you might feel overwhelmed yourself. You might want your friend to “forget” what s/he went through and have things go back to “normal.”
However, it is important for a survivor to talk about the assault as a way of regaining control. Listening can be stressful on you. Do not ignore your own feelings. Seek support for yourself.
My friend won’t talk about it. What should I do?
Sometimes survivors will not be able to talk about the assault right away. Be patient and give them time. Let them know that you are there for them when they need or want to talk.
Recognize your own limitations. As a friend, you can listen and give support, but the survivor may need professional counseling and information. Utilize relevant resources for assistance.
"So often, we believe that we have come to a place that is void of hope and void of possibilities, only to find that it is the very hopelessness that allows us to hit bottom, give up our illusion of control, turn it over, and ask for help. Out of the ashes of our hopelessness comes the fire of our hope."
- Anne Wilson Shaef, PhD.