SUPPORT YOUR FRIEND
When a friend is in pain or in need, our first instinct is to help. But what is the best way to help a friend who has experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, or relationship violence?
Every person reacts differently to trauma: there is no "right" way to react to sexual violence. Some people might completely shut down and seem blank; some might cry; some might want to act like nothing happened and go back to "normal." More than that, how a person feels one minute, one hour, one day, isn't how they'll always feel as they continue to process what has happened. As a friend, it can be difficult to know what to do or say to help your friend when they are struggling with hard emotions like confusion, anger, blame, sadness, fear, helplessness. But there are ways for you to support your friend--and yourself--as you move forward.
The single most important thing you can do to support your friend is to tell them that you believe them and are there for them. Your friend is vulnerable, and your reaction can influence whether or not they choose to share information with others, including the police or mental and physical health counseling services. Stay calm and non-judgmental. Tell your friend you believe them and want to support them however you can.
The following suggestions will not “fix” the pain or make the trauma disappear, but reacting or acting in a supportive way can help them feel less isolated and safer.
- Be calm. If you are in crisis, the victim or survivor may feel the need to take care of you rather than themselves. Be aware of the importance of separating your own experiences and emotions from them.
- Listen. Being a good listener means being non-judgmental and non-blaming. Try not to be intrusive.
- Be informed. Learn about the services available at Tulane and in the city and be able to assist them in connecting to resources. You can call any of the resources on campus to ask them about the services they provide--friends often make the first outreach to support services, helping the victim feel more comfortable with connecting to the University's support options.
- Encourage. If they choose to report to law enforcement or the university, support them in those choices. Offer to go with them to speak to Victim Support Services or to the Police.
- Understand that it is normal for the person to experience a wide range of emotions and reactions.
While there are many different ways to provide support, there are things to avoid. Be mindful to avoiding the following:
- Don’t question their role in the situation. This could make the person feel that they are being blamed and were somehow responsible for the situation. Don’t tell them what you would have done.
- Don’t tell them what to do, but rather inform them the resources available.
- Don’t blame them.
- Don’t tell them how to feel or how you think they should feel.
- Don't promise that everything will be "okay": you don't know what okay looks or feels like for them. Only promise what you know you can give--your support, your love, your time.
Supporting someone who is in pain can take a toll on you: for you to take care of your friend, you have to take care of yourself. Every resource available to victims is also available to you: you can reach out directly to Case Management and Victim Support Services, CAPS, or any of the other supports at Tulane to process your own emotions. Read more about how to practice good self-care here.