Staying Safe and Giving Help
How to help keep yourself and your friends safe
Having a plan in place will help keep yourself and your friends safe from sexual assault or violence. Below are a few simple steps you can take to increase safety:
- Always plan to accompany a friend or acquaintance home from a party, and never let a friend walk home alone.
- Be aware of where your friends are and who they're with.
- Don't let your friends accept alcoholic beverages that have been prepared for them or previously opened, and don't leave their drink unattended.
- Make sure your cell phone is easily accessible.
- Take major, public streets and paths rather than less populated shortcuts.
- Avoid dimly lit places and talk to authorities if lights need to be installed in an area.
- Remain mentally alert and aware of your surroundings.
- Have an excuse ready for you and your friend to leave a situation that feels unsafe.
How to help a friend
As a friend you may be the first or only person that a survivor tells about her/his experience. The best support that you can provide at first is to BELIEVE the survivor. It may have been very difficult for your friend to confide in you and they will need to talk to someone that doesn't question them. People rarely make up stories of abuse.
Listen and support
Do your best to listen to your friend without judgment. Let them know that she/he can talk to you and receive your support and understanding. Try to just listen without providing solutions.
Reassure the survivor that feelings of fear, guilt, anxiety and anger are normal and acceptable emotions. Sexual assault is NEVER the survivor's fault. No one asks to be sexually assaulted by what they wear, say or do. Let the victim know that only the perpetrator is to blame.
Let your friend decide how much they want to confide and to whom. Ask how you can best help and support them.
You can be supportive by helping your friend to identify all the available options and then help her/him by supporting their decision making process.
Encourage your friend to seek medical attention, report the assault, and or contact counseling services. Remember, your friend must ultimately make the decision as to what to do. She or he is the experts in their own lives. Don't push. Support your friend in their choices no matter what they decide.
It is important not to tell others what your friend has told you, and not confront the perpetrator. Remember that ultimately, decisions about the incident and who to inform are the right of the survivor.
An important part of helping the survivor is to identify ways in which the survivor can re-establish his or her sense of physical and emotional safety. You are a step in the process. Ask your friend what would make them feel safe and how you can help them accomplish this.
If the stalking or harassment is ongoing, help your friend to develop a plan of what to do if he or she is in immediate danger. Having a specific plan and preparing in advance can be important if the violence escalates
What to Say
It is hard to know what to say to a friend when they confide in you. The following are suggestions of things that might be helpful:
- It's not your fault
- I'm sorry this happened
- I believe you
- I am glad you told me
- I'll support your decisions
- You're not alone
- What can I do to help?
Tell your friend what you have learned about violence without preaching or telling him or her what to do.
Believe in the possibility of healing. Let your friend know that you believe that they have the strength and capacity to heal.
Adapted from the Wayne State University Campus Safety Interaction Program and the Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention Program at University of New Hampshire.