When it comes to supporting someone you care about who is a survivor of sexual violence, it is perfectly normal to be unsure of how to help. However, just being there to listen and believe the survivor in a way that is non-judgmental is simple, effective, and more essential than you might imagine.
Here are some other ways to offer support to a friend who is a survivor:
Has your friend been sexually assaulted?
Helping a friend begin to process the emotions that come with sexual violence begins with believing the survivor, letting them know that they are not to blame, helping to validate their feelings and empowering them to heal in a way that is healthy.
Believe them. Trust them. Support them. Remind and reassure them that it was not their fault.
You’re a friend, not an investigator or a judge. Avoid asking questions like “why did you go there” or “what were you wearing.”
Is your friend in an unhealthy relationship?
Listen carefully — without judgement or blame. Tell your friend that you believe them, that you are there for them, and that it is not their fault. Let them know you are concerned for their safety and that you love and care for them.
Acknowledge your friend’s bravery in speaking up about the abuse, and point out the good qualities they have. Remind them of all their strengths and that they deserve a healthy relationship, whether it’s with their partner or within their family.
Don’t rationalize the abuse or be a mediator between the two people in an unhealthy relationship. No one deserves to be abused, and domestic violence is against the law.
Don’t try to get your friend to choose between their abuser and you — this could make your friend feel like they can’t talk to you. Let your friend know you’ll be there when they are ready and that you aren’t going to push or do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
If you are non-religious, or your religious views differ, be supportive if your friend is religious and wants to pray or invoke a higher power. For people of faith, prayer can be a source of great comfort and healing.
Perhaps you are religious but your friend is not, so ask first if you may pray for them. Remember to meet your friend where they are currently at when it comes to their relationship with faith, and be respectful. Do not offer “thoughts and prayers” as a way to deflect other methods of support.
Never push prayer or your vision of God on a survivor who is not religious, angry at God, or going through a crisis of faith.
What does your friend need you to do right now? Hint: it’s ok to ask them.
They might need someone to go to the hospital or the doctor’s office, to the police station or to the hearing. Maybe they need help finding a therapist or child care assistance. Could you pick up groceries or medication for them?
Or maybe they just need you to be present with them right now.
If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask questions like “how can I best support you right now?” to enable the survivor to ask for the kind of support they want rather than making assumptions about what they might need.
Be aware that sometimes when a person is experiencing shock or other strong emotions, they may struggle to answer the question “what do you need?”. In this case, feel free to offer specific support that you think could help (for instance, “I’m coming over to help with the kids so you can get some alone time” or “I’m coming by with a pizza, if you don’t want to talk let me know and I’ll leave it on the porch”.) But always make it clear that they can say no if they don’t want what you’re offering.