Support a friend who has been sexually assaulted
If a friend shares with you that they have been sexually assaulted or that their partner is treating them poorly, it can feel overwhelming to know what to say and how best to support them.
Here are five tips on what to do when a friend discloses they’ve been sexually assaulted.
1. Make sure they are safe
The most important thing right now is that your friend is safe. Especially if the assault just happened or ongoing. Ask them if they are safe, use your best judgement to help them assess any immediate danger, and call in support if needed.
This is about their physical safety from the perpetrators, but also if your friend is at risk of suicide or self-harm as a way to cope with what has happened.
2. Listen to them and Validate – Believe them!
It takes a lot of courage and trust to share with you about sexual assault. They are your friend and you want to protect them, so you might want to rush to problem solving. But sometimes the most important thing we can do for a friend is to listen without judgement and validate for them that their feelings are ok and appropriate.
3. Ask what they need
Remember that every person’s recovery from sexual assault will look different. Ask your friend what they feel they need in the moment. If they seem stuck, it could be helpful to offer some options such as talking, having someone to help them plan their next steps, or other types of support. They might need different things at different times, so you can ask this question more than once to be there for them.
Remember to be in touch with your own capacity. It’s ok if you can’t meet their need – you aren’t expected to be everything for everyone. Let them know which needs you can meet, and if you have ideas for where they can meet their other needs, ask if they want you to share them.
4. Encourage them to get support
It’s okay to admit that you don’t know what to do next. You may want to take some time to research the options. A sexual assault and dating violence are incredibly traumatic. A lot of different types of support are often needed to help someone who has experienced it.
There are a lot of resources available for sexual assault survivors, including free phone and in-person counselling.
If you have the capacity, being with your friend as they access different supports could be a great way to be there for them and show them they are not alone.
5. Let them decide the next steps
There are many options for next steps and many decisions that feel like they need to be made in the moment. Remember that we all process trauma in different way. The most important thing for your friend is to know that they have autonomy and that whatever decisions they make, you as their friend will respect and support them.
We have created some communication scripts to help you with supporting a friend in different situations.
A – I saw the comments on your Tik Tok.
B – Ya. I think I’m going to delete my account...
A – You shared such great info for trans day of visibility
B – Ya I know. I don’t want to get off Tik Tok but that one person always comments on my stuff and it’s getting really violent. I’m kinda freaking out.
A – That's harassment!!! Maybe we should ask someone for help??? But do what feels safe for you.
B – Who do we talk to though?
A – Victoria Faulkner!!! they provide support for these things
we should reach out to them!!!
A – How’d your date go last night?
B – It was ok.
A – Omg did you go all the way?
B – I don’t really want to talk about it
A – Did something happen?
B – …..
A – You know I’m totally here if you want to talk about it.
B – I just feel weird about it. I dunno.
A – It’s ok to feel “weird”. Do you feel like you can talk to him about it?
B – I tried this morning, he/they just brushed me off.
A – Ugh red flag for sure. You deserve way more respect than that. I know a place we can get advice on what to do next. And ice cream – my favourite remedy.
A – I really want to break up with them...they totally don't respect my boundaries
B – They're so toxic and they make you miserable...seems easy to me
A – it’s just that the queer community is so small…and I’m scared they’re going to talk shit about me and turn everyone against me.
B – oh. That is real. That would suck if they did that. But people know them and they know you. And people know YOU are awesome.
B – but what if they just make up a bunch of stuff and people think I am the toxic one???
A – I have your back and so do all our friends. You’re not going to lose us.
A – when you are ready to do it, we can pre-plan like a support hang out and make sure that we are ready for whatever you will need!!!
B – “That’s fine. Whatever you’re comfortable with sounds good to me. ”