Validate your friends' feelings about the violence, reaffirm that it is not their fault and that you believe them. It's important to be mindful of tone when they tell you about what happened - if you sound doubtful or like you do not believe your friend, they will feel unsupported and be less likely to seek help from other sources.
It is important for your friend to regain a sense of self-control – offering options and respecting the decisions your friend makes can help them regain a sense of control over their life. You may have your own anger about what happened but it’s important that you channel that anger to supporting your friend and avoid pushing your own opinions or feelings on them.
There are many people and services who can provide them an array of support. Click the link below to visit our Get Support page and our list of on and off campus resources.
It’s important that you ask your friend questions about what they need, and you avoid pushing for explicit details about what happened. Asking questions like what they were wearing, what they did to encourage or discourage the assault, or how much alcohol/substances were used are harmful questions that will make your friend feel like you’re interrogating them and not believing what they have told you. It can also make them feel like you’re minimizing what happened.
Your friend may want and need privacy at this time and you breaking that privacy can cause more anxiety and trauma. It can be helpful for them to have more support, you can always ask “Is it okay if I talk to my mom/my Don/the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Coordinator about this?” or “Do you want to also tell X and Y friend? I think they would want to support you through this too.”
Small things can be very meaningful – cooking dinner together, picking up a favourite dessert or snack item, sending funny articles or TikTok videos. If your friend experiences something that reminds them about the incident, taking a couple of hours to spend time with them can make a big difference. It may seem obvious to you but reminding your friend that they are loved and that they matter is also very important. You friend may feel a combination of emotions linked to self-blame such as feeling weak or stupid.
Experiencing sexual violence can be traumatizing, and everyone handles it differently. It can take years for someone to process the violation that happened to them and their body. It's important that you don’t set a timeline for when your friend should be “over it” and that you also encourage your friend to be patient with themselves.
As much as you want to be there for your friend, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists have the training to offer long-term support. Take care of yourself and your own mental health.
The information above was adapted from http://cultureofrespect.org/help/help-for-a-friend/how-to-help-a-friend/