Helping a Friend

Supporting Someone Who Has Been Sexually Victimized

When someone has been sexually victimized, he or she almost always turns first to a friend for support and help. The emotional impact of abuse, harassment, or assault can be both immediate and long-lasting. A friend may confide in you 10 minutes or 10 years later—whenever it happens, it will be a difficult, important conversation. Listen well. Your friend may be experiencing any of a wide range of responses, including sadness, anger, shame, fear, self-blame, anxiety, shock, or feelings of helplessness. Often, people have trouble concentrating, eating, and/or sleeping; they may be plagued by intrusive thoughts and memories, even though they try to focus on other things.

The acceptance and support of friends are often vital steps in the healing process. Sexual violence is almost always a violation of trust; it often leaves survivors doubting their own judgment. By being understanding and supportive, you can help your friend begin to regain some of that trust and confidence.

Strategies for helping:

  • Listen and demonstrate that you believe them. Be sure your friend knows you will be supportive. It is important for your friend to know they are believed and not judged. If you find yourself doubting your friend’s story or experience, don’t express it. Be aware that the trauma they experienced may make their account unclear or inconsistent. This is a common result of traumatic experiences, not a sign they are being dishonest.
  • Let your friend lead the conversation. Allow your friend to determine the pace and focus of the conversation. Sexual victimization is almost always a profoundly disempowering experience. An essential part of support is allowing the survivor to maintain control over what happens next.
  • Be reassuring. Your friend is not at fault. No one asks to be sexually victimized. Avoid judgmental questions and statements. Remember that your friend may be blaming themselves.

If you are supporting your friend, be sure to take care of yourself:

  • Be aware of your own feelings. You may feel hurt, angry, guilty, anxious, or frightened. Such feelings are understandable but your reactions may feel surprising, confusing, or overwhelming.
  • Know and respect your own limits. There is only so much you can do to help your friend. You can provide support and compassion. Try not to offer more than you can give, and encourage your friend to seek additional support.
  • Remember that it was not your fault. You may feel guilty, thinking that you could have done something to prevent your friend from being hurt. Remind yourself that the blame lies only with the person(s) who committed the acts of sexual misconduct.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Find someone other than the survivor to talk with about your feelings. Talking with someone else can help you understand your own emotions and give you a clearer perspective on the situation. Campus resources are available to you, too.

Supporting Someone Who Has Been Accused

If a friend or someone you are close to has been accused of sexual misconduct, it can be difficult to know the best way to help them. Here are several concrete ways to help:

  1. 1. Listen to what they have to say. This is a good first step in getting an idea of what the situation is and what your friend might be feeling and/ or thinking. Check out the tips for having difficult conversations below for more direction from here.

  1. 2. Encourage them to continue taking care of their health and well being and their other commitments such as academics, work, and extracurriculars

  • In the case that your friend is in an emotionally unstable place, don’t hesitate to connect them to CAPS (607-274-3136) or encourage them to reach out to other mental health resources in the local Ithaca area. You can also submit an ICARE referral

  • If your friend is at immediate risk of harming themselves or someone else, you can get help by calling public safety (607-274-3333)

  1. 3. Remind them of the resources they have on and off campus, all of which can be found on the Resources and Options page or the Responding Party Brochure

  1. 4. Familiarize yourself with the terminology and get educated about issues relating to consent and/ or sexual misconduct. You can learn more on the Definitions and Terms page

  1. 5. Read about Ithaca College’sSexual Misconduct Policy for more clarity on what the judicial process on campus looks like

Important things to remember

  • It is not your obligation to investigate the allegation

  • You can stay true to your values without passing judgement on someone

  • Retaliation, in the form of threats or physical violence of any kind, are prohibited under college policy. Helping someone retaliate or retaliating yourself can result in disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion/ termination.

  • It is okay to be emotional. Helping someone through an accusation can be confusing, frustrating, upsetting, and draining. Make sure to continue to take care of yourself and utilize resources on campus as well as your own support systems.

Tips for having difficult conversations

  • Find a private place to talk where everyone feels comfortable

  • Listen to what the other person has to say

  • Engage in a way that lets someone know you are listening. Ways to do this could include making eye contact, nodding you head, or just sitting still; it all depends on what makes them most comfortable and is most appropriate

  • Be direct in your words and actions

  • Acknowledge someone’s emotions even if you don’t understand where they are coming from

  • Take care of yourself afterwards

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Title IX Office at 607-274-7761