Mastering Monday: How to Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
Watch This: This is a video created by 1800RESPECT, an Australian group that’s mission is around raising awareness about sexual assault, and providing resources and information on how to prevent such events from occurring. This video outlines key points on how to actively and effectively be there as a friend for someone who is a survivor of sexual assault.
The video has multiple perspectives on how they have handled the situation, as well as various tips and things to keep in mind in order to be the best support system for someone going through the recovery process. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qznXtees7g0
Read This: This is an article which outlines tips and advice in order to be a good friend to someone who is a survivor of sexual assault. It also has various links to other resources in case you are looking for more information on a certain topic, or would like direct links to the resources themselves. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/20/friend-sexually-assaulted_n_5655789.html
First thing you want to do is make sure that you are informed about the definitions and important key ideas that surround sexual assault. According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault can be defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape” (https://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault#sa).
With this definition understood, it is VERY important to understand that anyone can be the victim of sexual assault, no matter one’s identified gender. Women are not the only victims of sexual assault, it can happen to anyone. Just as anyone can be a victim, anyone can be a perpetrator of rape and rape like crimes. There is a stigma that men are the only rapists, and that anyone identifying as anything other than a male cannot commit these crimes. That is simply NOT TRUE.
There are many reasons that survivors of sexual assault do not come forward. They can feel ashamed as if it was their fault in some way or another. They can feel like people won’t believe them. They can feel that there will be no justice. They can feel a sense of disbelief and shock that causes them to only want to move on. There are many, many reasons that cause victims to not come forward put in place by our societal stigmas about sexual assault. But by being a good friend, you can help end this stigma and get your friend the support and help they need.
Here are some steps you can take in order to be the best supportive friend to someone who has survived sexual assault
Step One – Be a good and active listener.
Often times, the survivors of sexual assault just want someone to listen to them. If and when they are ready, they will come forth and talk about their experience. If and when that time comes, it is important to be ready to listen to your friend. Although each person’s experience is varied, talking about such an event can be really tough for your friend. You should support them by giving them your full attention and really trying to understand their experience.
Step Two – Assure them that it’s not their fault.
The best thing that you can do as a friend is to make sure you tell them that it is not their fault. No matter what the situation or how the story is told, make sure they know that you are there for them and that it is not their fault this happened.
Step Three – Make sure you are seeing it from their perspective
Each survivor of sexual assault has a different experience when it comes to the recovery process. Someone might talk about it a lot and actively seek you as a support system. On the other hand, someone might almost never talk about it. Each survivor’s experience is complex and unique. By understanding that there is not one straight path to recovery will help both you and your friend feel support.
Step Four – Respect your friends autonomy
This is the most important step. No matter what you think is the best thing for your friend to do (i.e report it to the police, go to the hospital, talk to a title IV investigator) you MUST respect your friend’s decision no matter what. By imposing your own decisions upon your friend, your intent may be good, but the impact is taking away your friend’s power to choose just as their perpetrator did. Support them by being a friend and offering to help them do whatever decision they want to make, but remember it is their decision.
Step Five – Help create safety
After going through such a traumatic experience, your friends sense of safety can be disassembled. By offering to walk your friend home from class or to tag along with them to walmart can help them reestablish a sense of comfort and safety. By offering to do these little things, you can really help your friend feel as though they have re-gained control of their situation. Offer them resources if they are interested in using them, but make sure you don’t force any resources upon them.
Step Six – Take care of yourself
Supporting someone you love through such a difficult time can really affect you personally. Do not be afraid or ashamed to seek help. Being a good friend is important, but making sure that you are practicing self care comes first. Seek out the counseling center or who or what ever you need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself.
Written by Peer Educator, Kayla Murphy