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How to help a friend

If your friend has been assaulted, you can help

Believe your friend and take it seriously

People very rarely lie about sexual assault. A victim/survivor often fears that no one will believe her/him, and it is important that you do not express any doubt, verbally or non-verbally. A friend may blame him or herself and make statements like "I shouldn't have been drinking," or "I shouldn't have gone out with him." Be supportive by telling your friend that it is not her/his fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted.

Don't force the story; let them guide you

Your friend will tell you what happened in her/his own time. There may be silences as your friend tries to put into words the trauma she/he experienced. Asking questions might interrupt the flow. You don't need all the details. Your friend will decide how much to disclose.

Avoid asking 'why' questions. For example, if you ask why your friend went to the perpetrator's room, you could sound like you are blaming him/her for getting into the situation. Trusting someone, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, does not mean the person is to blame. No one has the right to assault another person.

Don't minimize what happened or say it could have been worse. Give empathetic responses like, "that must have been very frightening," or "it's terrible what that person did to you."

Take safety seriously

Ask if your friend has seen the perpetrator again or is fearful for her/his safety. Even if your friend has broken up with the boyfriend/girlfriend/partner who committed the assault, there may be safety issues like harassment, threats or stalking. Let your friend know that there are resources available on campus to talk to about safety and safety planning. If you know the person who committed the assault, do not confront her/him. With your friend's permission, contact authorities who can take appropriate action.

Don't excuse or defend the perpetrator

There is no excuse for sexual assault. Even if drunk or stoned, a person is still responsible for obtaining consent for any sexual activity. A person can say NO at anytime, to anyone, including significant others. A victim has the right to express anger and fear. Do not feel that you need to defend the entire male species (the majority of perpetrators are men). Don't say "I hope you don't think all guys are like that," or "you're not going to hate all men now are you?"

Encourage reporting to the police but don't force them to take action

Ask your friend what she/he would like to do, and how you can help. Do not take control of the situation or try to make decisions for her/him. Tell your friend about counselling, medical care, legal and safety planning options and resources. Encourage your friend to get appropriate support.

Time is critical

Your friend may require an emergency contraceptive pill, or want a forensic medical exam to collect evidence for criminal charges. A medical exam needs to be completed within 72 hours of the assault. It is recommended to have the exam before bathing or changing clothes. Your friend can have a medical examination even if she/he is undecided about laying charges.

Ask how you can be of the most help

Your friend will need to set up his/her own appointments; however, you could offer to go along for support. Always respect your friend's confidentiality. Do not gossip. Sometimes survivors of sexual assault appreciate a friend telling select people so that she/he doesn't have to repeat the story over and over. However, always ensure you have your friend's permission before disclosing anything to others. Check in regularly to see how your friend is doing, and continue to offer support. Make sure you follow through on any support you have offered. It's important not to let your friend down.

Look after yourself

Helping someone who has been assaulted can be traumatic. You may need to debrief with someone and get your own support.

If you were assaulted in the past

Learning about your friend's assault may bring up past trauma, or feelings of anger and sadness for you. Sharing that you have had a similar experience can sometimes help your friend to feel that she/he is not alone. Be mindful that this may not be the time to tell all the details. If you choose to share your experience, keep in mind that everyone responds differently and may make different choices. Do not try to diminish your friend's experience with your own.