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How to help a friend

How can I help a friend who has been sexually assaulted?

Believe what has happened. One of the most critical ingredients to a survivor's recovery is how the people they disclose to respond. Listen and believe the survivor, it takes a lot of courage for someone to share what has happened.

Reinforce that the sexual assault was not the victim's fault. Avoid "Why?" questions, these seem to blame the victim; such as, "Why didn't you scream?" and "Why did you go to their room?" Allow the victim to talk out feelings of self-blame, but help them to see that the perpetrator is responsible for the sexual assault.

Offer safety and support. Sexual assault is traumatic. It is often difficult for someone who has been assaulted to be alone, especially immediately following the assault.

Listen. Don't press for details. This often results in a victim feeling blamed. Let them decide how much to share and when. Use your listening skills to communicate support and empathy.

Offer information and choices. Seeking assistance from any resource must always be the survivor's choice. Sexual assault victims experience an extreme loss of control and part of their recovery involves regaining control over their choices, even if they are different from your own. Provide them with information of resources on campus. Offer to go with them, but leave the choice up to them.

If the assault recently happened, encourage the victim to seek medical attention, offer to go along to the hospital.

Empower them with options and respect their decisions. Use a calm, soothing, firm voice. Project self-confidence.

Respect their privacy. It is important not to share information about the assault with others who are not involved. If you do need to share information, get the survivor's permission by letting them know who you will speak to and what you intend to say.

Take care of yourself. Supporting a survivor is hard work. Be sure you get plenty of rest and some time for yourself. Seeking counseling to get support for yourself can be a real help and keep you from "burning out" on your friend.

*Adapted from the Marquette University Counseling Center: Sexual Assault: How to Help a Friend.

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Stephanie Kitzerow

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Email: kitzeros@uwosh.edu
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