How to Help a Friend
The best way to help a friend who has experienced sexual violence, dating/domestic violence or stalking is to BELIEVE, VALIDATE, and SUPPORT them.
As a friend or family member, it is important to provide support and understanding and do so in a supportive, non-judgmental manner. Even if you disagree with your friend or family member, supporting them in making their decisions will help them feel more in control and help to regain a sense of strength, power, and safety that was taken. Some of the things that you can do to assist in the victim's recovery are:
False reports of sexual violence are rare. Always assume your friend/family member is telling the truth and that you believe them.
Listen and be patient
Let your friend/family member know that you are open to hearing anything they wish to share, without judgment or opinions. Give your friend time to respond and make their own decisions. Don't push them into taking steps they aren't ready to take and don't assume that you know what is best for them.
Remain calm and collected
It is normal to feel shock or anger, or want to retaliate, after someone discloses their victimization but expressing this will not be helpful to your friend. The worst thing you can do is tell them how to feel or what to do. Do not confront the perpetrator as this may lead to escalating behavior.
Ask how you can help
Respect the decisions and course of actions that the victim/survivor chooses to make and be available to assist them if requested.
Present options and encourage seeking support
If the survivor seeks medical attention, counseling services or plans to report, offer to be there. The following resources are available to assist you or your friend/family member.
- Confidential Survivor Advocate: 559-278-6796
- Fresno State Police: 559-278-8400
- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 559-278-6738
- Rape Counseling Services of Fresno County: 559-222-7273
- Marjaree Mason Center: 559-233-4357
If your friend does not feel comfortable seeking those resources, encourage your friend to seek support from friends or family.
It may have taken days, weeks, months or years for your friend/family member to disclose the sexual assault. Your friend has confided in you because they trust you so please get permission before you share that information with anyone else.
Know when to seek immediate help
There may be times when your friend is physically or emotionally unsafe. If your friend needs immediate medical attention, is suicidal, or at risk of hurting themselves or others you should call 911.
Things you can say to a survivor
- Are you okay? I'm concerned about you.
- It's not your fault.
- I'm not going to tell you what to do. What you do is fine with me.
- I'm afraid for your safety.
- You know, there's a number to call to find out more about this. Please know that I have the number, if you ever want it.
- Do you want me to call someone for you
- I will be here for you when and if you ever need me.
Be aware of common reactions your friend may display after a sexual assault
Assure your friend/loved one that all or none of these reactions is normal and part of the healing process:
Anger, Fear, Embarrassment, denial, Anxiety, Sleep disturbances, Mood Swings, Helplessness, Eating Changes, Substance Abuse, Suicidal thoughts, Crying
Source: RAINN 2007, USDOJ 2000, TAASA 2007, DHHS 2007
Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen
Let them know that the abuse is not their fault. Reassure them that they are not alone and that there is help and support out there. It may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. Let them know that you are available to help whenever they may need it. What they need most is someone who will believe and listen.
Respect your friend or family member’s decisions. There are many reasons why victims stay in abusive relationships. They may leave and return to the relationship many times. Do not criticize their decisions or try to guilt them. They will need your support even more during those times.
Even if they end the relationship, continue to support them
Even though the relationship was abusive, your friend or family member may still feel sad and lonely once it is over. They will need time to mourn the loss of the relationship and will especially need your support at that time.
Encourage them to participate in activities outside of the relationship with friends and family
Support is critical and the more they feel supported by people who care for them, the easier it will be for them to take the steps necessary to get and stay safe away from their abusive partner. Remember that you can call the hotline to find local support groups and information on staying safe.
Help them develop a safety plan
The victim advocate or a community advocate from MMC can assist your friend with creating a safety plan for whatever stage they are in their relationship- whether they’re choosing to stay, preparing to leave, or have already left – in hopes of increasing their safety and providing options.
Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance
Find services on campus or in the community that provides counseling or support groups. Offer to go with them. If they have to go to the police, court or lawyer’s office, offer to go along for moral support.
Remember that you cannot “rescue” them
Although it is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt, ultimately they are the one who has to make the decisions about what they want to do. It’s important for you to support them no matter what they decide, and help them find a way to safety and peace.
Source: National Domestic Violence Hotline http://www.thehotline.org
False reports of stalking are rare. Assume your friend is telling the truth.
Listen to them
Listen to them and do so in a non-judgmental manner.
Show support and offer resources
There are resources both on and off campus that can assist your friend in safety planning and risk reduction strategies. Please contact the Survivor Advocate 559-278-6796 or MMC 559-233-4357 for additional options and assistance.
Don't blame the victim for the stalking crime
No one is to blame for the actions of others. Nothing your friend said or did made the person stalk them.
Allow your friend to make choices
Remember that every situation is different, and allow the person being stalked to make choices about how to handle it. Choices lead to empowerment.
Provide Options and Resources
Encourage your friend to talk to someone with training in these areas. The following sources can provide assistance with stalking-related issues.
- Fresno State’s Survivor Advocate: 559-278-6796
- Fresno State Police Department: 559-278-8400
- Marjaree Mason Center: 559-233-4357
- National Domestic Violence: 1-800-799-SAFE.
Take steps to ensure your own safety