Supporting a Friend/Student
Dealing with harassment/sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking is difficult for both the survivor and those they turn to for support. Remember, it is okay if you don't know exactly what to say or how to help. It may be that your friend just needs somebody to listen and empathize. Be honest and let your friend know if you're not sure how to respond. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance.
- Be Patient
Keep in mind that the healing process takes time. There is no right or wrong process or timeline, and each victim is different. In order to begin healing, the victim needs to feel like s/he is in a safe and supportive place. It is important to let the victim know that you will be there, and it is okay to take as much time as needed.
Supporting a victim means being a good listener. Let your friend know that you are there whenever s/he needs to talk. Remember:
- Do not be judgmental
- Validate feelings of fear and anger
- Reiterate that harassment/sexual assault is never the survivor's fault
If the victim is minimizing the experience, affirm that the desire to move on is reasonable. But remind your friend that it is okay to feel negative effects in several aspects of her/his life.
- Let the Victim Make the Decisions
Let the victim make her/his own decisions after an harassment/assault regarding what action to take, whom to tell, etc. Even if you do not agree, keep in mind that your friend knows what is best for her/him. This is an important part of re-establishing control. Feeling shame or guilt around supporters will not help the healing process.
- Believe the Victim
Many sexual assaults/harassment incidents go unreported because victims experience a tremendous amount of blame and disbelief when they tell people about the incident. A large portion of survivor-blame comes from friends, family and partners that are generally supportive, but make unintentional survivor-blaming comments.
Questioning a victim about how s/he tried to resist the harassment/assault:
- "Did you fight back?"
- "Did you say no?"
Or questioning actions leading up to the harassment/assault:
- "What were you wearing?"
- "Had you been drinking?"
Can come off as blaming even when you are just trying to get the facts straight.
- Keep it Confidential
Let the victim decide whom to tell about the harassment/assault. Don't tell others without your friend's permission, even if it seems best (i.e. a professor is giving her/him a hard time for doing poorly on a test, or you know the perpetrator). Talking to people about the harassment/assault violates trust and leaves the victim feeling powerless. It is a better idea to suggest they talk to a professional on their own.
- Address Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
It is not uncommon for victims to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms during the healing process. Some examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms include:
- Alcohol use
- Drug use
- Disordered eating
- Risky sexual behavior
If you believe your friend is engaging in these behaviors, it is important to express your concern. Let the survivor know that s/he is not alone and identify possible healthy coping alternatives:
- Writing, journaling
- Pursuing art, music, poetry
- Spending time on a new hobby
- Physical exercise
Victims of crime may experience many physical, cognitive, and emotional reactions as a result of the victimization. The time of onset and the duration of these symptoms will vary by individual.
Here is a list of a few of the most common reactions a victim may experience.
These reactions are considered normal after experiencing a traumatic event. There are many other reactions that are not listed. You or a friend does not have to go through the healing process alone. If you or a friend is experiencing any of these reactions seek help from Counseling and Psychological Services (209.946.2315 x2).
- Take Care of Yourself
Supporting a victim of harassment/sexual assault can be stressful and draining. Don't hesitate to seek help for yourself. Contact the Counseling and Psychological Services if would like to talk to someone about your experiences.