How to Help a Friend
Listen and Support
- Support and understanding are essential. It takes a lot of courage for someone to share what has happened.
- Try to provide a safe/non-threatening environment, emotional comfort and support for the survivor to express feelings.
- Let her/him know that she/he can talk with you. Listen. Don’t rush into providing solutions.
- Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault! No one asks to be sexually assaulted by what they wear, say or do. Let the victim know that only the rapist is to blame.
- The survivor needs to hear that fears, anxieties, guilt and anger are normal, understandable and acceptable.
- Remember, no one ever deserves to be abused or harassed.
Believe Her or Him
- People rarely make up stories of abuse. It is not necessary for you to decide if she/he was "really hurt." If the victim says she/he was hurt, that should be enough.
- Believe what they tell you. It may have been difficult for them to talk to you and trust you.
- Don’t press for details - let them decide how much they are comfortable telling you. Ask them how you can help.
- Survivors have to struggle with complex decisions and feelings of powerlessness. You can offer support by helping identify all of the options available and assisting them in their decision-making. Trying to make decisions for them may only increase that sense of powerlessness.
- The survivor can’t just ’forget it’ or just move on. Recovery is a long term process.
- Encourage the victim to report the assault, see a doctor, and contact a counselor. The victim must ultimately make the decision as to what to do. Don’t push. Support them in the choices they make.
- Don’t tell others what she/he tells you. Let the individual decide who she/he will tell. It is important not to share information with others who are not involved.
- If you do need to share information for their safety, get their permission by letting them know what you will share and with whom it will be shared.
- An important part of helping the survivor is to identify ways in which the survivor can re-establish his or her sense of physical and emotional safety. You are a step in the process. Ask them what would make them feel safe and how you can help them accomplish this.
- If the stalking or harassment is ongoing, help your friend to develop a plan of what to do if he or she is in immediate danger. Having a specific plan and preparing in advance can be important if the violence suddenly escalates.
- Stalking safety plan guidelines
What to Say
It is hard to know what to say to a friend when they confide in you. The following are suggestions of things that might be helpful:
- “Nothing you did (or didn’t do) makes you deserve this.” or “It’s not your fault.”
- “I’m sorry this happened.”
- “I believe you.”
- “I’m glad you told me what you’re going through.”
- “How can I/we help you feel safer?”
- “I’ll support your decisions.”
- “You’re not alone."
- “What can I do to help?”
- If your friend does not recognize the danger, say “I am worried about you” or “I am afraid for your safety.”
- Tell your friend what you have learned about violence without preaching or telling him or her what to do.
- Let your friend know about counseling services that are available.
- Just listen. Let your friend vent and don’t try to have answers for everything.
- Believe in the possibility of healing. Let your friend know that you believe that they have the strength and capacity to heal.
What Not to Do
- Don’t say “This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t (had)…” or “I told you not to: go to that party, date that person, hang out with those people.” Blaming will only make the person feel worse.
- “This is private. Don’t tell anyone what happened.” This will further isolate your friend and make them believe what happened to them is shameful.
- Avoid "why” questions, as they often sound blaming (e.g. "Why didn’t you call the police?") Instead you might say "Leaving a relationship can be really hard.“ Assure them that they did not deserve to be hurt and that they did not cause the violence.
- Try not to be impatient or critical of the person if she or he is confused about what to do, doesn’t want to make a police report, wants to see the stalker or if they still love the abuser. Let them know you are concerned for their safety and help them understand the danger. You can’t make choices for them.
- Don’t confront the person who hurt your friend. Though you might want to fix the situation or get back at them, this could make things worse, for you and your friend.
Get Support for Yourself
Sometimes the family and friends of victims also feel the impact of the crime, and experience emotional and physical reactions. This is called secondary victimization. Hearing about dating violence and stalking can be upsetting. You may feel scared, angry and sad. You may feel helpless or frustrated if your friend is not doing the things you think he or she should be doing. You may want to talk about your feelings. If you talk to a friend or family member, remember to respect the survivor’s confidentiality.
If you have experienced crime or other traumatic events in the past, your friend’s experience might bring up memories and feelings of that time. Talk to a counselor, teacher, victim services provider or other trusted adult to see what kind of help is available for you.
To get help, call Wayne State University Counseling and Psychological Services at (313) 577-3398. You can also call the NCVC Helpline at 1-800-FYI-CALL.
REMEMBER, YOU CAN’T RESCUE YOUR FRIEND OR SOLVE ALL OF HIS OR HER PROBLEMS.