If a friend, partner, co-worker or family member tells you they were sexually assaulted, or are in a controlling and abusive relationship, remember that you might be the first person they have told. Your response helps determine whether they feel safe and supported when telling others or seeking additional help. They might not know how to say it or how to sort out their feelings but they know something is wrong.
Be a good listener
It takes incredible strength and courage for someone to reveal that they were assaulted or that they are in an abusive relationship. Your friend may need your support now and in the future. Let them choose when they want to talk and how much to share.
Remind your friend that this was not their fault. Let them know that you believe them and be non-judgmental in your approach.
Keep it confidential
Your friend has chosen to tell you something that may be too hurtful to reveal to others. Don’t tell anyone without their permission. If you are worried about your friend, talk to them about the resources that are available to help.
Provide options and information
There are several things your friend may want to think about: medical care, collecting evidence, reporting to the police and seeking counseling. It is important to provide information but to allow your friend to make their own choices. Refer them to SARIS to help with support, advocacy and resources.
Let them make their own decisions
You can provide options and information, but always let your friend make their own decisions. A person who has been assaulted or abused has been overpowered by another person and it is an important part of their recovery to have control over their own decisions. Instead of taking charge, ask how you can help. Offer to accompany your friend to seek the services that they choose. Support the decisions the survivor makes, even if you don’t agree with them. Take your lead from them on how best to help.
Remind your friend that you care and that they are not alone
Your friend may worry that they will be thought of or treated differently by other people. Let your friend know that that is not the case and that you are there to help them through this.
Take care of yourself and be proud of the fact that you care
Learn as much as you can about these issues and UW resources. This will help you better understand your friend’s experiences and the process of recovery.
Be aware of your own reactions and feelings of anger, confusion or hurt. Try to distinguish what you are doing to make yourself feel better from what you are doing to help your friend.
Seek support for yourself. Know how much you can give and when you need help too. Your support plays a critical role in their recovery. Talking with someone who can help you work through your own feelings may better enable you to support your friend. SARIS is here for you too.
Helpful things to say
Thank you for telling me.
I believe you.
It’s not your fault.
I’m sorry that happened to you.
What can I do to help?
You are a strong person.
I’m glad you told me.
Things to watch out for
- Don’t interrogate or ask for specific details.
- Don’t ask “why” questions such as “why did you go there?” or “why didn’t you scream?”
- Don’t tell your friend what you would have done or what they should have done.
SARIS is a confidential and safe starting point for students affected by sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. You may have personally experienced violence or abuse or be supporting a friend, co-worker, family member or student. Call, email or stop by the office to make an appointment with the SARIS specialist.