No one wants to think that our friends or acquaintances might have been sexually assaulted or abused. Yet statistics suggest that we all know survivors, whether or not we’re aware of it.
Sexual assault and abuse survivors who receive positive social support are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or substance abuse issues, research shows. “When a survivor of sexual violence chooses to disclose to a friend, this friend can help set the tone for the recovery process,” says Kelly Addington, founder of One Student, an advocacy organization addressing sexual assault in student communities. “Focusing on the survivor and how you can support them is much better than focusing on the attack.”
It can be hard to know the “right” thing to say to a friend who tells you they have been sexually assaulted. Along with simply being there for them, here are a few ideas of specific things you can say to help support them through this difficult time:
I believe you
It means a lot that you trusted me with this
You did not cause this
May I look for some resources that might help?
If you need someone to come with you, I will
I’m here for you
Tell me as much or as little as you want
I’ll support whatever you choose to do
How do you want me to act when I see [the perpetrator]?
The decision about what to do next is yours
It wasn’t your fault
What can I do to support you?
What would help you feel empowered and safe?
I won’t share this unless you ask me to
I’m sorry this happened to you
How are you doing?
Want to hang out or do something fun?
Consider discussing the situation with a trusted adult such as a parent, counselor, teacher, or school staff member. Before disclosing assault or abuse to teachers or staff, ask about the implications for confidentiality.