Avoid questions that start with who, what, where, why, when. While they are generally meant to gather details, they can often come across as blaming.
Ask- How can I support you right now? What I can I do for you?
Don’t force your friend to do anything. Because sexual violence inherently violates a person’s control and personal autonomy, the best thing to do is help to empower your friend. Avoid saying directive things like- “We have to go to counseling.” or “We have to tell our RA.” Simply follow your friends lead and support them with whatever they need.
Assess for safety. Ask- do you feel safe right now? If your friend is in danger, ask them if you can call the police together .
If the assault happened within the last 5 days, your friend is able to get a rape kit done if desired. This means that a specially trained nurse will collect evidence in case the survivor ever wants to use it (Getting a rape kit done does not mean that they ever have to go forward with an investigation). A survivor should never feel forced to do this, but you may want to let them know about their time window. Clothes should be stored in a paper bag (not plastic) for best evidence collection.
If a friend comes to talk to you about a “bad night” and is not using the terms “rape” or “sexual assault”, then don’t define their experience for them- in this case, also refer to it as a “bad night.” It’s best to use the language they are using even if you would define the experience differently.
Reinforce that you BELIEVE them, that what happened to them is NOT THEIR FAULT, and that he/ she deserves so much better.
At the end of the conversation ask- “Going forward, how can I support you?” “Is it okay for me to follow up with you?” Having a plan going forward may ease anxiety that survivors often feel after they disclose. They shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll bring this up every time you see them.
Keep it confidential! Don’t share what your friend has said with others on campus.
Remember that there are many people on campus who can support your friend regardless of whether or not they wish to go forward with any type of investigation. Check out Merrimack Anti-Violence Education Network to learn more about Merrimack’s resources and policies.
Take care of yourself! It can be upsetting, infuriating and scary to hear that something like this happened to a friend. You should never disclose or report your friend’s story without their permission, but you may want to stop by our office or to speak with a trusted adult on campus to talk things through (without sharing any names or details).