Sexual violence and relationship violence affects everyone differently. Detailed below are some guidelines that can help complainants, respondents, and friends and loved-ones of people involved in these situations. The below tips are not a comprehensive list of ways to interact with people affected by sexual violence, but these guidelines can help navigate this difficult time in your life.
A Complainant is the person reporting conduct that may have violated the Sexual Offense Policies
A Respondent is the person being accused of violating the Sexual Offense Policies
Methods to help support a friend who has experienced sexual violence
People who experience sexual violence often disclose that information to a friend. While hearing this can be very confusing it is important that you have tools to help your friend. You might also be experiencing many different emotions, from sadness, to anger and fear, this is all normal. While you cannot change what happened you can help your friend through their healing process by being supportive. Below are some suggestions about how to help your friend. Remember you must also take care of your own wellbeing during this time. Supporting a friend who discloses to you may be difficult and require extra emotional labor if you have firsthand experience with sexual violence.
There is no perfect response for when a friend tells you that they have experienced sexual violence. Your friend has trusted you, try to respond with support and care:
Let your friend do the talking, do not push them or attempt to automatically find a solution. Make sure they know you are comfortable with them turning to you.
Allow them to set the pace. Letting your friend know that you are comfortable with them telling you.
This may make them uncomfortable and will make them think you do not believe them. Do not tell them what you wish they had done or not done differently, this may be seen as unhelpful or unsupportive. Asking “why” questions can sound like you are blaming them for what happened and may upset your friend further.
- For example don’t ask “why they had so much to drink” or “why they went back to someone’s room”
Your friend said they were hurt, that should be enough for you to support them.
Do not talk to or tell anyone about what happened without their permission. Only tell someone who you can trust to help if you believe they, you, or the community is still in danger.
Knowing where to turn for Counseling services, medical attention, evidence preservation, and reporting is important. Do not force them to follow any of these options but make sure they know the range of possibilities. Resources can be found here: https://bit.ly/2JAMGgq
You can provide information and advice, but it is ultimately their decision about what they want to do moving forward. Help your friend feel confident in their own decision-making.
Do not assume what they want or need. Respect what they tell you. If they do not want certain types of help that is their right, do not force it upon them. Respect their decisions.
When going to seek support, medical attention, or file a report with the Title IX office or police your friend might not want to be alone. If they do want to go alone, let them!
While you may not have the same experiences as them you can empathize with what they are experiencing. Saying things like “it could have been worse” or “it’s going to be alright” are sympathetic responses that overlook what your friend might be feeling. Using phrases like “I am sorry this happened to you” or “How can I help you right now?” are empathy based responses and will let your friend know you understand the gravity of the situation.
Assure them that this experience does not change your relationship with them. That you care about them and will be there for them as much as you can.
Your friend is going through a difficult time and may need to spend time alone. Respect their time and space and always make sure to ask before hugging or making physical contact with them.
Methods to help support a friend accused of sexual assault
If a friend discloses they have been accused of sexual assault, it is normal to be confused and have questions. You might also be experiencing many different emotions, from sadness, to betrayal, this is all normal. Your friend might be reaching out for support and it is okay if you are unsure of how to respond to them. You can help your friend find the information and/or support they are looking for without condoning their alleged behavior.
- Lead them to resources:
- Center for Counseling and Personal Growth: A counselor can talk to them about this experience in a confidential space.
- The Title IX Office: Speaking to the Title IX Coordinator can help them understand the process
- Educate yourself on Sexual and Relationship Violence
- Understanding what your friend talking about will make you more able to support them during this process. It is not your job to determine what happened, but it is important that you understand the situation.
- Be honest with your limitations on providing/being there for support
- Everyone has a threshold of how much support they can provide for someone else. Make sure to be aware of your own personal limitations. Encourage your friend to reach out to professional resources so that they can receive the support they are looking for.
- Be respectful of privacy and confidentiality.
- Do not talk to or tell anyone about what happened without their permission. Only tell someone who you can trust to help if you believe they, you, or the community is still in danger.
- Let your friend do the talking, do not push them or attempt to automatically find a solution.
- While you want to help them understand and/or fix the situation this is not your responsibility. Let your friend process what is happening without jumping into problem solving.
- Silence in these conversations is normal
- Allow them to set the pace. Be a good listener and do not try to fill up the silence.
- Let your friend make their own decisions.
- You can provide information and advice, but it is ultimately their decision about what they want to do moving forward. Help your friend feel confident in their own decision-making.
- Ask them what they need from you.
- Do not assume what they want or need. Respect what they tell you. If they do not want certain types of help that is their right, do not force it upon them. Respect their decisions.
- Offer to join them when they are in related meetings.
- You can go with them when they seek support, medical attention, or file a report with the Title IX office or police, etc. If they want to go alone, let them!
- You should harass or threaten other people involved in the situation.
- Violence and retaliation are prohibited by Clark’s Sexual Offense policy and could result in disciplinary action against you.
- Helping your friend find resources and support does not mean you approve or condone their alleged actions.
- Support your friend without judgment or conclusions. It is also not your responsibility to choose what did and did not happen, that is the responsibility of the Clark Title IX Team.
How to take care of yourself while supporting someone else:
Knowing what your friend is talking about and the challenges they are facing as a Complainant or Respondent will help you support them.
It is normal to have a strong reaction when learning about violence a friend has experienced or been accused of, especially if you or someone else in your life has experience with similar situations. Be compassionate with yourself, it is okay to be confused, angry, or scared. If you are struggling with this situation reach out to someone you trust, or a counselor at CPG. It is important that you also have someone to talk to. While you cannot change what is happening with your friend, you can help through this process, but only if you are taking care of yourself.
While your intentions are in the right place it is important to recognize that what might make you feel better might not be helpful to your friend. Placing their needs and wants above your own desires for retaliation or your ideas about what we help them most, will be the most beneficial to your friend in the long run. If you do not know what would be most helpful, ask them!
You can only give as much as you are capable of. Not being able to provide your friend with all the support they require does not make you a bad friend or a failure. In order to be a good support system you must be taking care of yourself. Make sure your friend has several support options that they can turn to. Let your friend know you will not be hurt by them also talking to someone else, and that you want them to be surrounded by a strong support network.
The same services you were offering your friend are available to you! Find a counselor at CPG or stop by the Title IX office. Just because you did not experience the violence yourself does not mean it does not affect you. Your health and wellbeing is also important. Find a support system, and make sure to continue to respect your friend’s privacy even as you seek help.