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Overcoming assault: a guide on support

by Hazen Center for Integrated Care
Tue, Apr 24th 2018 10:55 pm

We all come to college looking to learn something new, prepare for the future, and make some amazing memories and even better friends along the way. But what if the unthinkable happens to one of those friends? Have you ever considered how you would help a friend who experiences a sexual assault? Are you familiar with how to respond, or resources that may be helpful? 

Sexual assault is definitely a difficult topic to talk about, but that doesn’t make it any less important. According to RESTORE Sexual Assault Services, 720 people are sexually assaulted every day. 

It can be very difficult for sexual abuse survivors to open up to anyone, including their friends about their experience, so it is important to know how to respond if they do. 

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) has some specific phrases and effective tips to use while talking to someone who has been sexually assaulted. 

It is important to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible. It may be your first instinct to try and really understand what happened to your friend and ask questions to figure things out, but often times asking a lot of questions may cause the survivor to feel like you don’t believe them. 

It is best to start the conversation by saying “I believe you,” or commenting how it took a lot of courage for them to share their story with you. By creating an environment where the survivor feels safe and comfortable, they will feel more supported by you, more in control, and may share with you more information as they process what happened.  

According to RAINN, survivors of sexual assault often blame themselves for the trauma and abuse they have experienced, especially when the perpetrator is someone they know. It is important to reassure them that it is not their fault and they did not deserve what happened to them. 

You want to avoid the typical who, what, where, when, why and how questions, such as, “How much did you drink?,” “What were you wearing?,” or “Why didn’t you just leave?” 

Asking questions of that nature, although helpful to you understanding what happened, could cause the survivor to feel like you are blaming them or don’t believe them when they say they are victims of sexual abuse. 

The best thing you can do to support someone is to let them know that you are there to listen and help them in any way you can. It is also a good idea to remind them that there are services and resources that are available to support and help them heal if they want to utilize them. 

When supporting a survivor, let them drive their own bus. They need to be making the decisions that help them feel in control of themselves and their healing process. They may ask you about resources, so it would be helpful for you to learn about some of the local on and off-campus resources there are to help people heal from this type of trauma. 

You could also recommend seeking treatment like medical attention and  counseling, or reporting the incident to authorities. As a friend, do not try to force them to report the crime or do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing — whatever course of action they chose to make is up to them. 

Lastly, let them know that you are sorry about what has happened to them and that they should not have to be going through this. You can communicate your empathy to the survivor by saying phrases such as, “Thank you for sharing your experience with me,” or “I’m sure this must be really difficult for you.   

Every person heals differently, and even if an event of sexual violence happened a long time ago, they may still feel pain there deep down. Make sure to check in with them periodically, reassure that you are there for them and care about their well-being. 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and is dedicated to spreading awareness of the topic, providing education and resources, as well as preventing it from happening to others. This year’s theme is Embrace Your Voice, and we encourage you to do just that. 

If you or someone you know is in need of some sexual assault resources on or around our campus, there are many options to choose from. 

If you believe that you or a friend is in immediate danger, contact University Police. If you are looking for information about resources or ways to prevent sexual violence from ever occurring, you can contact The Center for Select Respect located in the basement of the Seymour College Union. RESTORE Sexual Assault Services also has a college advocate available to talk to on campus located in the same office as The Center for Select Respect. RESTORE also has a 24-hour hotline that you can contact at any time. 

The Office of Title IX can also help students navigate resources available to those who have been impacted by sexual violence. Located within Hazen Center for Integrated Care are the counseling services that are available by walk-in and by appointment. 

Healing from a sexual assault is not a process anyone should  have to go through on their own. Your voice is strong and has the power to help a survivor, so don’t be afraid to use it and help others. 



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