Surviving a sexual assault can be a traumatic experience, and reactions can be varied, in time and in kind. You may be supporting a friend or family member whom has survived a sexual assault, and many questions may arise in how to best support them, how to ask the right questions, and offer the best help. It can be difficult to know how to handle such situations and we can help guide you in understanding your experience as a helper, and the ways to understand and support your loved one. These skills can be utilized regardless of the relationship, whether you’re a friend, faculty, staff, or a parent. To talk more about how to help a friend or family member call the Wellness Exchange Hotline (212-443-9999) anytime to speak with a counselor.
Sexual assault is a crime of violence and removes power and control from the survivor. It’s important to return that power and allow the survivor to have some control over next steps.
In certain instances, a person may not know what actually happened. They may have woken up and are unsure whether they were raped. Again, empower them to make their own decisions.
While your friend or loved one may not choose to make a decision in the moment, nor are they obligated to commit to counseling or to filing a report with Public Safety or the police, we can help by offering assistance in navigating services and reminding them of what’s available. So don’t hesitate to call the Wellness Exchange hotline (212-443-9999) to speak with a Crisis Response Counselor about your concerns.
|Believe them unconditionally. |
Only 2% of reported rapes are false reports. This is no different from any other crime. It is important to assure your friend that you support them.
Let them speak until they’re done. If you don’t know what to say, just listening can make a difference.
|Listen actively. |
Nod your head, make eye contact, lean forward and upright. Try not to interrupt, give your opinion, or tell your own story until they’re done.
|Express empathy. |
Saying something as simple as “I’m so sorry that happened to you” or “thank you for telling me” can demonstrate that you understand the intensity of the situation and that you appreciate that they chose you to confide in. Using such “I statements” can also prevent you from sounding critical.
|Withhold judgment. |
You may want to comment on your own thoughts about what they’ve just told you, but this is not the time to critique their story. Providing an attentive and positive reaction to their narrative is one of the most helpful things you can offer.
|Ask thoughtful questions. |
If you want to ask questions, make sure they’re for the other person’s sake and not for your own curiosity. Sometimes stories are confusing or lacking detail. It’s understandable that you might want to know more, but make sure any question you ask is only to help the other person further. Open-ended and judgment-free questions such as “how do you feel about that?” or “can I help in any way?” can communicate you care.
|Have patience. |
There is no time frame in which one must “get over” a sexual assault. Give them time and space to heal.
|Recommend professional help if someone seems to be really struggling. |
All NYU students have access to counseling services. Remind them that seeking help does not mean they are crazy or damaged; it’s just one more opportunity for support and assistance.
|Take care of yourself. |
Listening to a disclosure can be overwhelming in and of itself. Consider speaking with a counselor if you find yourself feeling particularly affected by the content of the story. You do not have to break the other person’s trust by seeing a counselor about your own reaction.
|DO NOT blame. |
It is very common for people to blame the victim, but remember: no one ever deserves to be raped. Don't question actions; a survivor's behavior does not cause sexual assault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted. Be careful of asking blaming questions such as, "Why didn't you scream?" or, "What were you wearing?"
|DO NOT try to be a detective. |
Due to the nature of how trauma affects memory and the brain, sometimes stories - particularly from the past - can come off as hazy or even unbelievable. False reports are very rare, equaling roughly 2-8%, a number consistent with false reports of other violent crimes. Remember: it is not your job to figure out the details or determine whether someone is lying.
|DO NOT try to provide simple solutions. |
Sexual violence is not a simple issue and, therefore, it cannot be “fixed” or “solved”.
|DO NOT try to lighten the mood. |
Letting someone have the space and silence to feel angry, sad, or confused is more helpful than trying to make them feel better through jokes or changing the subject.
|DO NOT keep a secret if someone mentions current thoughts of hurting themselves or someone else. |
If you are unsure of their intention, ask them directly or call the Wellness Exchange Hotline (212-443-9999) for guidance.
|DO NOT try to handle this yourself. |
Listening and providing a supportive reaction to someone’s disclosure is essential, but that does not mean you must manage the situation on your own. If you do not feel close enough to the person or if the issues seem overwhelming, refer to the Wellness Exchange for additional support.
|DO NOT judge yourself too harshly. |
Sometimes we don’t react the way we want – we may smile when we’re nervous or freeze when we’re taken off guard. If you feel you did not handle a past disclosure in an effective way, it’s probably not too late to go back, apologize, and try again.
|DO NOT ignore your own need to discuss your feelings. |
Supporting someone through a traumatic experience can be overwhelming, so remember to take care of yourself. You can also contact the Wellness Exchange for information and support.
726 Broadway, 4th Floor, Suite 471
Sat-Sun: Closed (Call 212-443-9999)
(No appointment necessary)
726 Broadway, 4th Floor, Suite 402*
(Short-term refills available 5-8pm)
(Short-term refills available 3-5pm)
Sun: Closed (Call 212-443-9999)
* 3rd Floor Reception on Saturdays.