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Health Promotion and Wellness

How to Help a Friend Who Has Experienced Sexual Violence

If you are a friend of a survivor, encourage your friend to contact a Sexual Assault Response Advocate. You can also contact a SARA, who can help answer questions about your role as a friend of a sexual assault survivor. SARAs are available during business hours.  For after-hours advocacy contact Call to Safety, or RAINN.

SARA (503) 202-3119 (pager)

(Enter your phone number after the prompt, then press #)

The best way to help a friend who has experienced sexual violence is to BELIEVE, VALIDATE, and SUPPORT them.

Beyond that, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Remain calm and collected. 

You may feel shock or anger, or want to retaliate, but expressing this will not be helpful to your friend. Do not try to scare your friend or coerce them into feeling a certain way. A survivor of sexual violence has already experienced a profound loss of control; the worst thing you can do is tell them how to feel or what to do. Provide information about resources, and without significant bias.

  • Be patient, and listen well.

Listening will let your friend know that you hear them, understand and care. It is important that you listen to what your friend tells you in a non-judgmental way. For the survivor, telling you about the sexual assault may be the first step toward recovery. By listening carefully, you can communicate genuine concern to your friend. By respecting silences in the conversation, you can convey acceptance. Let your friend decide what they would like to discuss and don’t force the issue. Support your friend by allowing them to recover and take action at their own pace.

  • Help your friend feel safe.

Assure your friend that they are not alone. Survivors of sexual violence often feel isolated, scared, and powerless. You can be the most helpful just by being there. Reassure your friend that you will not disclose any of the information that they are sharing with you. Make it known that they can trust you and that you have their well-being in mind.

What Not To Do:

  • Don’t assume or judge.

Allow your friend to share their own experience. Be respectful by not making assumptions about their situation or what happened. Judgments and evaluations are always to be avoided. Remember: accept, validate.

  • Don’t blame or criticize.

Assure your friend that it is not their fault and your friend is not to blame for the assault in any way. Survivors often blame themselves and anticipate being blamed by others. No matter what they did or did not do, sexual assault is not their fault. Survivors need to know they are not to blame.

  • Don’t tell them what to do or how to feel.

Help your friend by allowing them to make their own decisions and respecting their choices. You may feel that they are not acting the way you might in the same situation, but telling them what to do will not empower them. Survivors of sexual assault may experience many feelings and reactions. Support your friend through their struggle and assure them that there is no shame in being angry, depressed, scared, etc.

What To Do if the Assault Just Occurred:

  • Safety.

Your friend may not want to be left alone. Offer to stay with them. If you must leave, inform them and let them know when you will be back and offer to call someone they want to stay with them. Provide a protective environment.

  • Medical Attention.

Help them seek medical attention if they want to access it.

  • Reporting.

Offer to call a Sexual Assault Response Advocate, Campus Safety, The Portland Police Bureau, etc.

See resources.

The Bottom Line:

The best way to help a friend who has experienced sexual violence
is to BELIEVE, VALIDATE, and SUPPORT them.