If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted or are in a controlling and abusive relationship, remember that you might be the first person they have told. Your response helps determine whether they feel safe and supported telling others or seeking additional help. They might not know how to say it or how to sort out their feelings, but they know something is wrong.
How to offer support
Be a good listener
It takes incredible strength and courage for someone to reveal that they were assaulted or that they are in an abusive relationship. Your friend may need your support now and in the future. Let them choose when they want to talk and how much to share.
Remind your friend that this was not their fault. Let them know that you believe them and be non-judgmental in your approach.
Keep it private
Your friend has chosen to tell you something that may be too hurtful to reveal to others. Don’t tell anyone without your friend’s permission. If you are worried about your friend, talk to them about the resources that are available to help.
Provide options and information
There are several things your friend may want to think about: medical care, collecting evidence, reporting to the police and seeking counseling. It is important to provide information but to allow your friend to make their own choices. Many of these resources and processes can be confusing, and it's okay if you don't have all the infomation. You can always reach out to an advocate to learn more about what might be available for your friend.
Let them make their own decisions
You can provide options and information, but always let your friend make their own decisions. A person who has been assaulted or abused has been disempowered by another person, and it is an important part of their recovery to have control over their own decisions. Instead of taking charge, ask how you can help.
Offer to accompany your friend to seek the services that they choose. For example, in addition to just texting your friend the phone number for the confidential advocate, offer to go with them or to make the call together.
Support the decisions the survivor makes, even if you don’t agree with them. Take your lead from them on how best to help.
Remind your friend that you care and that they are not alone
Your friend may worry that they will be thought of or treated differently by other people. Let your friend know that is not the case and that you are there to help them through this.
Take care of yourself and be proud of the fact that you care
Learn as much as you can about these issues and about available resources. This will help you better understand your friend’s experiences and the process of recovery.
Be aware of your own reactions and feelings of anger, confusion or hurt. Try to distinguish what you are doing to make yourself feel better from what you are doing to help your friend.
Seek support for yourself. Know how much you can give and when you need help. Your support plays a critical role in their recovery. Talking with someone who can help you work through your own feelings may better enable you to support your friend. UWB's confidential advocate can also offer support to you, as someone who has been impacted by your friend's experience with violence.