How can I help a friend or peer who has experienced sexual or relationship violence?
Whether the assault was recent or many years ago, the support and understanding of friends and loved ones can be the most helpful thing of all to a survivor. Many survivors say that the response they received when they first told someone made all the difference in their safety and healing process. There are many ways you can support a survivor
Listen and believe
Listen patiently and empathically, without judgement. Tell them you believe them. Sadly, our society often still casts doubt and judgement on people who come forward. When we begin by believing it is the first step to healing.
It’s never their fault
Let them know sexual abuse or assault is never the survivor’s fault and there is nothing they could’ve done to prevent this from happening. Blame belongs with one person, the one who perpetrated the assault.
Don’t try to “fix” it
It’s hard to watch someone we know and love go through something hard but it’s not our role to fix things or offer advice. Our role is to listen and follow the survivor’s lead as to how they want to be supported and what they want to do moving forward.
Discuss their safety and support their decisions
Let them know there are options for support, medical care and reporting. If they are an adult the decision is theirs to report the assault, seek medical attention, or connect with a crisis center. Support their decisions and support them if they change their mind. Ask the survivor how you can help before doing anything. It is important that they are in control of next steps.
Be careful about touching
You may want to reach out and put a hand on the survivor’s shoulder or leg or wrap them up in a hug but this is an especially vulnerable time for a survivor so ask before any physical touch. Even outside of a disclosure of sexual violence, it’s always important to ask someone before touching them because practicing consent is essential in all aspects of our relationships!
Maintain their privacy
It takes courage to disclose. You have been entrusted by the survivor and telling others could cause more harm to them. Tell the survivor that they can speak in confidence to a counselor at The Wellness Center or an advocate at MCVP: Crisis and Prevention Center for confidential support and information on how to help
Take care of yourself, too
Get help for yourself if you’re feeling overwhelmed or frightened by a situation. Find someone you can talk to about those feelings. Support and information for both you and your friend or family member is available through:
- The Wellness Center: 603-358-2200
- MCVP: Crisis and Prevention Center 24hr confidential hotline: 1-888-511-6287 or 603-352-3782
- NH’s 24/7 Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline: 1-866-644-3574
Phrases You Can Use to Help
“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 help you feel safer?”
“I’ll support your decisions.”
“You’re not alone.”
“What can I do to help?”
Resources on this page are adapted from The Wellness Center’s Student Support Network training materials and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. For more resources and information, visit our Get Help page.