How to Support
Listening & Talking
One of the most important things you can do to support your friend is to listen calmly and nonjudgmentally. Here are some ways to practice active listening:
- Mirror your friend’s language by avoiding using more or less ‘severe’ language than they do, and allow your friend to label their own experience.
- Maintain eye contact and mirror your friend’s body language to show that you are paying attention.
- Ask open-ended questions about what your friend wants to do or talk about. Let them lead the conversation.
- Repeat back what your friend has said, being mindful to use their words. For example, “I’m hearing you say...is that right?” If you are paraphrasing their feelings, always include a disclaimer like, “it sounds like…”
- Avoid asking “why” questions. For example, “what’s making you feel sad?” is better than “why are you sad?”
- Validate their responses and make sure they know that what they’re feeling is normal.
It can be hard to know what to say, especially if you are processing your own reactions or you are worried about saying the wrong thing. It is okay to be honest with your friend when you are not sure what to say. Here are some examples of supportive, nonjudgmental ways to show your friend you are there for them:
- In response to their story
- “I believe you.”
- “I’m sorry that this happened.”
- “The way you’re feeling is totally understandable/makes complete sense.”
- “You are not alone in this.”
- “I’m here for you in whatever way you need.”
- “Thank you for sharing with me.”
- To check in or start a conversation
- “What do you want to talk about?”
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “I am here to listen whenever you are ready to talk.”
- “Do you want me to offer feedback or just listen?”
- To provide support
- “Is there anything that I can do to make it easier?”
- “Is there something you can do that usually makes you feel safe/calm/happy?”
- “I will support any decision you make.”
- “Your only responsibility is to your own healing.”
Dos & Do Nots
- Make sure your friend is physically well and safe
- Believe your friend’s story
- Listen and let your friend lead the conversation
- Empower your friend to make their own decisions even if you would respond differently
- Educate yourself about available resources and let your friend know they have options
- Encourage them to seek support
- Ask open-ended questions about what your friend wants to do or talk about
- Mirror your friend’s language and allow them to label their own experience
- Respect their confidentiality, and ask before you share their story with anyone else
- Validate your friend’s emotions and make sure they know that whatever they’re feeling is okay
- Blame your friend for what happened; rape is only ever the fault of the rapist
- Confront the person accused of committing the assault
- Pass judgment; recognize your own biases about sexuality and sexual assault
- Pressure your friend to report the incident
- Ask prying questions about the details of the incident
- Compare their experiences to your own or to other experiences you’ve heard about
- Try to “fix” the situation; sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen
- Ignore your own feelings and reactions
Taking Care of Yourself
To be a support for someone else, it is important that you are taking care of your own needs as well. Counseling Services are available for anyone impacted by sexual assault, including friends or acquaintances. The following suggestions are found on rainn.org.
- Maintain your lifestyle. It can be difficult to stay emotionally strong if you are mostly focusing on the sexual assault. Maintaining your lifestyle and continuing to do what you enjoy is important for your emotional wellness. If you enjoy painting, cooking, exercising, spending time with friends, or other activities, keep them up. It may seem challenging to make time to do these activities, but they can be helpful self-care strategies in the long-run.
- Reach out and talk about it. It’s normal to have a difficult time processing the sexual assault of someone you care about. It can continue to be difficult as time goes on and the survivor begins the healing process. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit at online.rainn.org to chat with someone who understands what you’re going through. You can also consider talking to someone who is trained professionally to help you deal with these thoughts and feelings, like a mental health professional.
- Make plans. Sometimes talking about what happened can help you cope with your feelings, and other times it can make you feel more stuck. Make plans that give you a break from talking or thinking about the assault. It could mean starting a new hobby or revisiting one you already enjoy. You could go to dinner with a group of friends who understand this isn't time to discuss what happened. Maybe you prefer a solo activity, like going on long walks. Let this be a time where you can take your mind off the assault.
- Take time to relax. Relaxation looks different for everyone. You might consider meditation or deep breathing exercises. Maybe journaling helps you sort through your thoughts and find peace. Build time into your day for these moments of relaxation so that you don’t skip out.