Student Life

Sexual Violence: Support & Resources

How to Help a Friend who has experienced sexual violence

Below is information on how to help a friend who has experienced sexual violence. 

If an assault took place at any time, always remember to:

  • Listen without judgment.  It takes courage to share; be respectful.  DO NOT criticize, downplay emotions, express disappointment or show shock regarding any action or non-action taken previously.
  • Believe.  It is extremely important to believe a survivor by verbalizing your belief, expressing empathy and sincerely sharing your concern.  DO NOT blame the individual for any action or inaction leading up to, during or after the assault.  It is never the victim’s fault.
  • Be patient and sensitive.  Understand the range of emotions and the time it takes to heal is different for every survivor.  Allow an individual to make decisions about when and how to receive support; help him/her understand it is not their fault. DO NOT try to take control of the healing process.
  • Empower the survivor. There are many resources available to survivors of sexual assault on campus and off campus; know your resources and share them all openly.  DO NOT make decisions about any of the next steps without the survivor’s consent.

 Helpful Phrases:

  • Encourage Openness: “Tell me more about that.” or “What does that mean to you?”
  • Emotions: “How do you feel?” or “What do you think about that?” or “What I am hearing you say is…”
  • Empowerment: “What do you want to do?” or “How can I help?” or  “What would you like to see happen?”

 Comments to Avoid:

  • Anger.  Any anger, even towards the perpetrator, could make the survivor self-blame. Avoid anger, aggressiveness and violence.  
  • "Why" Questions.  “Why did you drink so much?” or “Why didn’t you fight back?” These questions push blame onto the survivor.  Avoid all why questions.
  • Evaluating.  “You shouldn’t…” or “You should…” or “This needs to be done.”  The survivor lost their own power and control during the assault; give the power back and allow the survivor to choose the next steps in their own healing process. 

The healing process for a survivor will take time and everyone is different.  As a person who cares about the survivor, you could possibly deal with emotional stress as well.  Ensure you are taking care of yourself and empower the survivor to do the same.  Reach out to available campus resources if you need guidance or support.

 Emotional Self-Care:     

  • Attend counseling; this could be with a therapist, advocate, social worker, etc. On-campus counseling can be found by calling CAPS at 610-660-1090.
  • Relax; participate in self or group relaxation or meditation exercises
  • Keep a journal; recording your feelings could help to manage your emotions
  • Maintain friendships; nurture supportive, positive relationships and let go of negative ones
  • Seek spiritual support; prayer, reflection, pastoral care.  The Office of Campus Ministry at SJU can be reached at 610-660-1030.

Physical Self-Care:

  • Eat regularly; maintain nutritional diet
  • Get plenty of sleep; lack of sleep can affect your ability to meet responsibilities
  • Exercise; exercise is known to combat feelings of sadness and depression
  • Seek medical care; do not put off reviewing any physical or emotional symptoms with a doctor

Remember, survivors of sexual assault may experience a wide range of emotions such as:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Disbelief
  • Fear
  • Mood swings
  • Embarrassment
  • Change in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Problems concentrating or relaxing
  • Resurfacing of memories of past trauma or abuse

The emotional impact of sexual assault is unique for each person.  Regardless of how much time has passed, help is always available by contacting one of the resources listed on this site.