FOR FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND PROFESSIONALS
YOU HAVE THE POWER TO BE A FIRST RESPONDER
The support and understanding of friends and people in a position of trust can be very helpful to a sexual assault victim. Many victims worry about how their family, friends, and others will react. It is important to let the victim know right away that you care and want to help. There are some specific things you can do that can positively influence a survivor’s healing process.
Listen to the survivor & protect their privacy
Tell them "it's not your fault" & "I believe you"
Empower them to make their choices.
Refer them to SASO's hotline, medical attention, police or therapist
Let them know there is hope for healing.
SASO offers periodic First Responder training to help friends, family and the general public understand the dynamics of sexual assault and oppression and how to best respond to a disclosure of sexual assault. See Training/Events for more information on upcoming trainings.
TO CONSIDER WHEN SUPPORTING SURVIVORS
Often a person in crisis just needs someone to listen to his/her story. You can show you’re really listening to your friend by nodding, looking him/her in the eye, saying “uh-huh,” etc.
One of the most important things you can do is to communicate that you believe what your friend is telling you. Survivors often worry that they will not be believed, or have been told by the perpetrator that no one will believe them.
There is no “normal” response to trauma. Remind your friend that whatever reactions or responses s/he has are okay. Sometimes, trauma victims behave in counterintuitive ways, but in the moment these unexpected behaviors may be or feel crucial for survival.
HELP TO CLARIFY WHAT YOU THINK YOUR FRIEND IS SAYING
Listen carefully to your friend and then tell them what you think they said about their feelings. Your friend may be talking about her/his emotions in a way that seems jumbled. You can help by sorting out and repeating back what was said. Say things like: “it sounds like…” or “what i hear you saying is…” (don’t be afraid to be wrong. Even if your interpretation is incorrect, it can still help your friend clarify her/his feelings.)
LET YOUR FRIEND DECIDE WHAT THEY WANT TO TALK ABOUT
Don’t push your friend to talk about something if they are not comfortable. If you feel you need to ask questions, ask gently so that your friend doesn’t feel that you’re prying. Ask general questions like “do you want to talk about what happened?” Rather than “how were you raped?”
AVOID ASKING ACCUSING QUESTIONS
The perpetrator is to blame for what happened. You may feel angry and frustrated about what happened, but don’t take it out on your friend. Don’t ask questions about why your friend did (or didn’t do) a certain thing. Survivors do the best they can with confusing, terrifying, or life-threatening situations.
DON'T MAKE DECISIONS FOR YOUR FRIEND
The experience of an interpersonal violence incident is one of having complete control taken away. You can help your friend regain power over their life by letting your friend make their own decisions about what to do next. Help your friend get information on what all of the options are, but let them make the decisions.
SHOW THAT YOU CARE
Remind your friend that you care, and that this crisis hasn’t changed that fact. You can show your affection by hugging (check that your friend is okay to be hugged), telling your friend that you love them, or even just sitting quietly together. You may not feel that you are doing much, but your presence can mean a great deal.
REMIND YOUR FRIEND TO HAVE SELF-COMPASSION & SELF-CARE
Your friend has been through a very difficult experience. Remind your friend to be good to themselves.
It can be extremely difficult for survivors to share their story with even one person, so maintain your friend’s confidence. Don’t tell anyone else about the assault unless your friend says it’s okay.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
It can be very upsetting and traumatic when a friend is victimized. You may feel powerless, guilty, shocked, angry, or scared. These feelings are normal, natural responses. Be sure to be kind to yourself and get help managing these emotions.