What Should I Do If My Friend Was Sexually Assaulted?
Sexual assault is not so much about sex as it is about power and control. A person who has experienced sexual assault has lost control over a basic, fundamental, and very personal aspect of his being. The victim is almost sure to feel violated and vulnerable.
Being a Trusted Friend
The fact that your friend has disclosed the incident to you is a sign that you are someone that he can trust with sensitive information. As a trusted friend you are in a position to provide some real help in this difficult time. However, while any true friend will want to help, many simply don’t know what they can or should do.
How to Support Your Friend
Again, as a victim of sexual assault, your friend has lost control over a very important part of his life. While helping your friend to cope with the assault, allow him to exercise control as much as possible. You may offer advice, but let your friend have the final say about what is to be done.
Watch your friend for signs of depression; if he displays signs of suicidal behavior or is otherwise a danger to himself, call 911 or a suicide prevention hotline.
Discuss with your friend possible ways to make him safer, including reporting the incident to the police or seeking a restraining order against the perpetrator.
Support your friend in any decision he makes, including whether or not to inform the police. Some victims may regain a sense of control by reporting the incident to the police, while for others reporting the incident may serve only to remind them of the event.
Sexual assault is one of the two types of trauma that are most likely to induce post-traumatic stress disorder (the other type of trauma is combat-related). In other words, survivors of sexual assault may be as traumatized as combat veterans. PTSD typically manifests itself in persistent re-experiencing of the event, either in the form of dreams or as waking flashbacks.
Survivors of sexual assault are likely to experience a range of emotions. Survivors may feel numb, depressed, angry, or irritable. They may act out aggressively or take refuge in drugs and alcohol.
Concrete ways that you can help your friend include but are not limited to the following:
- Listen. Let your friend know that you are there to listen whenever he wants to talk about what happened, again, however, do not coerce your friend into talking if he is not ready, but let him make the decision.
- As you listen, avoid the temptation to analyze or offer opinions, especially regarding his behavior. Don’t ask “why didn’t you just…?” Listen without judgment and accept your friend’s feelings as valid, whatever they may be.
- Protect your friend’s privacy. Do not disclose the incident to anyone else without your friend’s permission.
- Do not confront the alleged offender.
- Reassure your friend that healing is possible and support him through the healing process.
Treating Trauma-Related Issues
There is therapy available to help people who have been the victim of sexual assault. If you would like help finding treatment for trauma resulting from sexual assault, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline to speak with one of our counselors.