Questions you may be thinking about
What should I do if a friend tells me they have been sexually assaulted or are in an abusive relationship?
First, your friend has courageously chosen to open up to you because your friend feels you can be trusted and will understand their situation. The first and the best thing you can do is listen to your friend's story. As you listen, refrain from asking questions or passing judgment. This is called active listening.
What does active listening mean?
How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and the only thing you are thinking about is what to say next to make the situation better? This is not active listening.
Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. To do this, you need to listen attentively. Pay attention to what your friend is telling you. If there are moments of silence, don't feel you have to fill them with a question or words. Just keep listening.
If I am active listening, does this mean I shouldn't talk?
No. Active listening doesn't mean you sit in silence. That would be too uncomfortable for you and your friend! There are ways you can respond that maintain a sense of safety and mutual understanding. One way to do this is to repeat what your friend has told you, in your own words. A simple way to do this is stating, "what I am hearing you say is...." This will let your friend know you are paying attention to their story and may make them feel safe to continue talking.
What are some helpful things I can say to my friend?
If you are unsure what to say to your friend, here are some helpful phrases:
- “I believe you.”
- “You survived; you did the best you could under the circumstances.”
- “It is not your fault. Nothing you did could possibly justify what happened.”
- “I’m glad you told me. I believe you and I’m sorry this happened.”
- “This does not change how I feel about you.”
- “What can I do to help you?”
- “What do you want to do?”
- “How does that make you feel?”
- “Are you comfortable telling me more about ___________.”
- “What does that mean to you?”
- “What do you think about that?”
- "What would you like?”
- “What would you like to see happen?”
What if my friend's story doesn't seem to make sense?
There may be moments when our friends' story doesn't make sense or you want to ask questions and know more. Victims of traumatic events, such as sexual assault and relationship abuse, often have difficulty telling their stories in a way that is chronological and coherent to an outsider. The story may make sense to your friend, but not to you. Refrain from trying to make sense of the story. Your friend is telling you about the experience in a way they feel comfortable. If you attempt to get the facts and ask questions, your friend may think you don't believe them.
What if I don't believe my friend?
When a friend discloses to you that they are in an abusive relationship or have been sexually abused, it is important to provide support, even if you are feeling that you don't necessarily believe what you are being told. It is not up to you to sort out the facts, piece them together and make a believable story. It is your role to support your friend, listen and provide a sense of compassion.
Sometimes our feeling that we don't believe someone's story comes from the culture that teaches us that it is “the victim's fault” they were abused. Remember, no one asks or deserves to be abused.
If you find that you are having difficulty supporting your friend because you don't believe them, it is best to not discuss this with your friend directly. Instead, contact SHARPP or another professional you trust who can offer assistance in helping you navigate your own emotions and cope with the difficulty of believing your friend.
What else can I do to help my friend?
You can't take care of your friend or solve their problems. The best thing you can do is listen actively, believe and refrain from judging. You can also offer your friend options available to them to get help at UNH. Your friend may not follow through immediately or at all, but the choices may be useful down the road.
What options can I provide my friend with for getting professional help?
There are many great resources available at UNH. In most cases, these resources are available for free and are confidential:
- SHARPP support and education to survivors of sexual violence, relationship abuse, sexual harassment, and stalking.
- Psychological and Counseling Services short-term individual mental health counseling
- Health & Wellness medical care and wellness education/counseling
- UNH Police Department - legal information and safety planning
- Wentworth-Douglass Hospital (Dover) - medical care 24/7 or when Health Services is closed