BELIEVE THEM. They need your trust and support. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It is not the person’s fault they have been raped. Many sexual assault survivors are victimized a second time when they confide in a trusted friend or family member who questions them, blames them, ignores or brushes them off or doesn’t believe them.
LISTEN. You may feel like giving advice or getting angry at the person who hurt them. Hold off. Listen to your friend. They may not be clear about what they feel and may present feelings to you in a confused way. The survivor may cry, be angry, laugh, be afraid, feel unsafe, be sad or be numb. Try to listen and understand what the survivor has gone through. Talking may provoke feelings in you, especially if this person is close to you or you’ve had your own experience with sexual assault. Try to keep your feelings in check right now, especially your anger. Your friend needs you to be sensitive to their feelings and to help them decide what choices are good for them. Even though the survivor’s pain about the experience may feel overwhelming to you, remember, by listening non-judgmentally, you are helping them to begin healing. Be patient as they may need your support for a long time.
RECOGNIZE. Recognize that your reactions and feelings are important too. When someone we care about is hurt we often feel hurt too. You may need to talk to someone about what you are feeling and how to handle it. Don’t hesitate to do so. Talk to a friend, a family member or to a professional. The Counseling and Testing Center is available to you at 541-346-3227.
ACT. If your friend contacts you right after being raped or assaulted, encourage your friend to get medical help immediately. There are many reasons to get a medical evaluation. Some birth control medication needs to be taken right away. Also not having an exam before cleaning up may limit future options. A survivor can always decide later after the exam whether to pursue charges. The University Health Center and Sacred Heart Hospital have trained sexual assault nurse examiners who can collect evidence and care for their needs. Stay with the survivor if wanted for support. You can also let them know about support options via the Safe website or by calling 541-346-SAFE any time day or night.
RESPECT. Above all, respect the survivor’s efforts to be in control. Even though immediate medical attention is a good idea, if the survivor does not want to go, do not insist. Control has just been taken from the person who has been sexually assaulted. You can best support them in taking back control by allowing them to make their own decisions.
- First express faith or belief in the survivor.
- Express validations and comfort, not judgment.
- Put aside your feelings when you are with the survivor. Deal with those feelings somewhere else.
- Keep the information and identity of survivor confidential so they have control over the information (unless you are a UO employee required reporter).
- Inform the student of the Safe website and confidential support counselors available 24/7 at 541-346-SAFE .
Brooks Morse, Ph.D.