Experiencing 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 who has experienced a sexual assault or relationship violence, 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. 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 parent. To talk more about how to help a friend or family member call the Wellness Exchange anytime to speak with a counselor confidentially at (212) 443-9999 or chat via the app anytime – just ask for the CRC. We have also established local phone numbers to reach the Wellness Exchange around the world — whether you are in NYU Abu Dhabi, NYU Shanghai, or at an NYU global site.

What to do if the assault recently occurred

Sexual assault and relationship violence are crimes of abuse and violence, removing power and control from the person experiencing harm. It’s important to return that power and allow the person who experienced the trauma to have control over next steps.

  • Ensure the person is safe: do they need to go to a safe location, do they want someone with them, and/or can you call someone to be with them?
  • Do they want to call the police? Police can be helpful in some situations but not everyone will feel that this is a safe option, the choice is up to the person who experienced harm.
  • Do they want to receive medical attention? NYU students can receive routine medical attention at the Student Health Center or urgent treatment at a local emergency room. There is no obligation to receive a rape kit, take photos or collect evidence; they are only performed if requested.

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. Whether they experience sexual or relationship violence, hospitals do not involve police in New York State unless the person who experienced harm seeks it. Hospitals only contact police if there is a gunshot wound or a life threatening stab wound or burn occurs.

  • Do they want to get checked out medically?
  • Do they want to speak with a member of NYU Campus Safety?
  • Do they want to speak with a counselor over the phone? The Wellness Exchange is confidential and available 24/7 at (212) 443-9999.

NOTE: Members of the NYU community can speak with a counselor over the phone confidentially, and are not obligated to report the incident to Campus Safety or commit to counseling.

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 Campus Safety or the police, we can support them by offering assistance in navigating services and reminding them of what’s available. Don’t hesitate to call the Wellness Exchange at (212) 443-9999 to speak with a Crisis Response Counselor about your concerns.

Tips for helping someone who has experienced sexual assault or relationship violence

Expressing a trauma-informed reaction to a person who discloses sexual assault, harassment, stalking, or an abusive relationship can have a profound impact on their healing. A trauma-informed response means understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, focusing on physical, psychological and emotional safety while creating opportunities for empowerment. The key to a trauma-informed response is creating a safe space for the person who experienced the trauma to process their options, feelings, and concerns, and to start the healing process when they disclose.

What to Do

  • 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.
  • Listen. 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 “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 or get clarification, 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 that you care.
  • Have patience. There is no time frame in which one must "get over" a sexual assault or abusive relationship. Give them time and space to heal.
  • Keep information confidential. People who experience trauma, sexual or relationship, often feel disempowered and it is important to give them control over who knows about their experience. This means not sharing it with anyone, no posting on social media, no sharing with your best friend, partner, colleagues, or family unless the person who experienced the trauma gives specific permission. It is not your role to investigate their trauma and gather more information about the incident.
  • Recommend professional help if someone seems to be really struggling. Remind them that seeking help does not mean they are crazy or damaged; it's just one more opportunity for support and assistance. All NYU students have access to counseling services.
  • Take care of yourself. Consider speaking with a counselor if you find yourself feeling particularly affected by the content of the story. Listening to a disclosure can be overwhelming in and of itself. You will not have to break the other person’s trust by seeing a counselor about your own reaction.

What to Avoid

  • Assigning blame. It is very common for people to blame the person who experienced harm—but remember, no one ever deserves to be rape, harassed, stalked or abused in a relationship. Don’t question actions; a person’s behavior doesn’t cause someone else to sexually assault or abuse them.
  • Trying 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’s not your job to figure out the details or determine whether someone is telling the truth.
  • Offering simple solutions. Sexual and relationship violence are not a simple issues. Therefore, it cannot be "fixed" or "solved.”
  • Trying 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. If they share jokes or lighten the mood then be where they are, it’s a normal reaction to avoid difficult emotions and the trauma they experienced.
  • Keeping 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 at (212) 443-9999 for guidance.
  • Handling 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.
  • Judging 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.
  • Ignoring your own need to discuss your feelings and experiences. 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. You may also obtain consent from the person who disclosed their experience to talk to a friend or family member about the impact it has had on you.

Call the Wellness Exchange Hotline at (212) 443-9999 or chat via the app anytime and ask for a Crisis Response Counselor (CRC). They can talk through your medical, mental health, and legal options and meet with you in person. Available 24 hours a day, every day.