Experienced Sexual Violence

Dealing with sexual violence can be difficult for both the survivor and those they turn to for support. Remember, it is okay if you don't know exactly what to say or how to help. It may be that your friend just needs somebody to listen and empathize.

Be honest and let your friend know if you're not sure how to respond. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. Refer to the guidelines below.

BE PATIENT

Keep in mind that the healing process takes time. There is no right or wrong process or timeline, and everyone is different. In order to begin healing, the survivor needs to feel like they are in a safe and supportive place. It is important to let your friend know that you will be there, and it is okay to take as much time as needed.

LISTEN

Supporting a survivor means being a good listener. Let your friend know that you are there whenever they need to talk. Remember:

  • Do not be judgmental
  • Validate feelings of fear and anger
  • Reiterate that sexual violence is never the survivor's fault

If the survivor is minimizing the experience, affirm that the desire to move on is reasonable. But remind your friend that it is okay to feel negative effects in several aspects of their life.

LET THE SURVIVOR MAKE THE DECISIONS

Let your friend make their own decisions after an assault regarding what action to take, whom to tell, etc. Even if you do not agree, keep in mind that your friend knows what is best for them. This is an important part of re-establishing control. Feeling shame or guilt around supporters will not help the healing process.

BELIEVE THE SURVIVOR

Many sexual assaults go unreported because survivors experience a tremendous amount of blame and disbelief when they tell people about the incident. A large portion of survivor-blame comes from friends, family and partners that are generally supportive, but make unintentional survivor-blaming comments.

Questioning a survivor about how they tried to resist the assault:

  • "Did you fight back?”
  • “Did you say no?”

Or questioning actions leading up to the assault:

  • "What were you wearing?“
  • “Had you been drinking?”

Can come off as blaming even when you are just trying to get the facts straight.

KEEP IT PRIVATE

Let your friend decide whom to tell about the assault. Don’t tell others without your friend’s permission, even if it seems best (i.e. a professor is giving them a hard time for doing poorly on a test, or you know the perpetrator). Talking to people about the assault violates trust and may leave the survivor feeling powerless. It is a better idea to suggest they talk to a professional on their own.

Some staff at Northwestern are confidential resources related to sexual violence. Most faculty and staff, however, are required to report some information about instances of sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking to the University.

ADDRESS UNHEALTHY COPING MECHANISMS

It is not uncommon for survivors to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms during the healing process. Some examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Disordered eating
  • Risky sexual behavior

If you believe your friend is engaging in these behaviors, it is important to express your concern. Let the survivor know that they are not alone and identify possible healthy coping alternatives:

  • Writing, journaling
  • Pursuing art, music, poetry
  • Spending time on a new hobby
  • Physical exercise

KNOW THE RESOURCES

Get information about resources on campus and in the community, and research what to expect in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Talk to an advocate if you have any questions.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Supporting a survivor of sexual assault can be stressful and draining. Don’t hesitate to seek help for yourself. Our services are intended for both survivors and their supporters. Contact a CARE advocateif would like to talk to someone about your experiences.