What should you do if a friend or acquaintance has been raped or sexually assaulted?
If a friend who has been sexually assaulted asks for your help, you can support her by providing what comfort you can and seeing that she receives the necessary medical aid. You can also ensure that she takes the appropriate steps for reporting the incident to public safety or the police. It is helpful for you to accompany your friend to the police, staying with her where appropriate until all necessary procedures have been completed.
Here are some suggestions of ways you can help a friend who has been raped:
- Be supportive. Let her know that you care about her, that you believe her, and that she is not alone.
- Encourage her to express her feelings about what has happened to her.
- Be interested and empathic without prying or pressing for details.
- Try not to criticize or judge.
- Respect her decisions about what she wants: who to tell, whether or not to report to the police, what makes her feel safe, etc.
- If you are a man, be aware that her reaction to you may be complicated; she may want affection, or she may have generalized fears of all men.
- Try not to express your own feelings of anger or helplessness to her, or to project them onto her. Talk about these feelings with another friend or professional counselor.
For Residence Hall Staff: When a Student Is Assaulted…
If a student comes to you voluntarily, you know that she trusts you; it is important to remain a supportive reassurance as she makes decisions about what to do. Studies show that a survivor of sexual assault is significantly affected throughout her recovery by the actions of and attitudes of the people in her support system. Your openness, willingness to listen, and nonjudgmental support may be a key factor in her progress from victim to survivor.
Take special care to help the student obtain the assistance of college resources. Follow up with her to see how she is doing.
You must also be aware that if a student's life is in danger or if a student poses serious risk of harm to others, you may not be able to maintain confidentiality. As an employee of the College, you have an obligation to report your concern that someone's life may be threatened to appropriate College officials.
Guidelines for Helping a Friend or Acquaintance who has been a Victim of a Rape:
Very few people lie about rape or sexual assaults.
No one asks to be raped. No matter what your friend was wearing, how they were acting, how much they had to drink, they are not responsible for being sexually assaulted.
Encourage your friend to seek medical attention at Smith College Health Services or a hospital, if the rape occurred recently. A medical examination can detect and prevent injuries, STDs, and pregnancy, and may be able to detect memory-altering drugs.
No matter where the survivor lives, there are always services listed in the phone book. The Yellow Pages list local rape crisis centers under "Rape" or "Social/Human Services".
Allow your friend to tell you as little or as much as she wants at her own pace.
Although you may not mean to, some questions may put your friend on the defensive. For example:
- "Why didn't you just leave?"
- "Did you scream?"
- "Why did you go to the room alone?"
Instead try asking:
- "What happened?"
- "How are you feeling?"
- "What do you feel you want to do now?"
Although your natural response may be to give your friend a hug, be aware that after a sexual assault many survivors do not feel comfortable with physical contact.
Speaking to one of the resources listed in this resource guide may be helpful to your friend. Volunteer to accompany her. Having someone she trusts may make it easier to talk about the attack. A discussion with one of these people could explore counseling, medical, disciplinary, and legal issues, as well as academic concerns and housing alternatives.
The most important part of a survivor's recovery is regaining the control that the rapist took away. Help your friend find what options she has, and be supportive of whatever decisions she makes.
Hearing about a sexual assault is an upsetting experience. You may want to talk to a trusted friend or counselor about your own feelings.