How to Support a Friend
There are many ways in which you can help a friend, including:
- Recognizing Warning Signs
- Recognizing Common Responses to Trauma
- Understanding Myths and Facts
- Understand safety strategies
- Learn to respond
Recognizing Warning Signs
If you or a friend has been sexually assaulted, it is important to recognize the common responses you or they may have to the trauma.
Initial Crisis: For the first few days or weeks, the assault may seem unreal. You may feel numb or you may experience intense or heightened emotions. You might even have physical symptoms of shock: feeling weak, nauseated, moving slowly, nightmares or inability to sleep. There is nothing wrong or unusual about these kinds of reactions.
Outward Adjustment: This is the time when pressure to “get on with your life” might come from within or from others in your life. Many survivors may appear, on the outside, to have forgotten about the assault or be satisfactorily “dealing with it” as they deal with practical matters such as returning to school, work, or other normal routines. Sometimes well intentioned family members, friends, or significant others encourage this. You may find yourself trying to block the experience out of your memory. This can be an important and selfprotective coping mechanism for the short term.
Secondary Crisis: For many people, something happens in their life (a trigger) which may make their previous coping mechanisms ineffective, causing them to face the assault. Acknowledging the assault may be quite painful. What formerly seemed unreal or was denied may become very real to you. Survivors of sexual assault describe feeling depressed and/or having flashbacks or obsessive thoughts about the assault. You may replay the assault or parts of the assault in your mind many times. You may also experience intense anger. Again, it is important to remember that these responses are completely normal.
Integration: You are changed by the assault, but have integrated the experience as one event among many life experiences. You may feel as though you have survived the assault and have dealt with the thoughts and emotions of the trauma. You may still spend time thinking about and talking about the assault, but may find that when triggers and flashbacks do occur, the feelings surrounding the experience do not last long and may become less intense over time
Several myths exist about sexual assault. These myths often shift responsibility and blame from the assailant to
the victim. Understanding the myths surrounding sexual assault may help you in your recovery, or help your friend through their recovery. What happened to you or your friend is a crime. You, or your friend, are not to blame for the assailant’s behavior.
MYTH: Rape is caused by the perpetrator’s uncontrollable sexual urge.
FACT: Rape is a crime of violence in which sex is used as a weapon. The rapist attacks the victim in an effort to seize power and control.
MYTH: Individuals who commit rape are mentally ill or psychotic and cannot help themselves.
FACT: Very few perpetrators are mentally incompetent and/or out of touch with reality. Rapes may be planned or carried out by acquaintances, intimate partners, family members, or strangers.
MYTH: The victim must have “asked for it” by being seductive, careless, drunk, high, etc....
FACT: No one asks to be abused, injured or humiliated. This line of thought blames the victim for what happened instead of the perpetrator who chose to commit the crime. Individuals of all ages, from all walks of life, have been targets of sexual assault. Not one of them “caused” their assailant to commit a crime against them.
MYTH: If women would just stop drinking so much, they wouldn’t be sexually assaulted.
FACT: Alcohol is a weapon that some perpetrators use to control victims and render them helpless. As part of their plan, assailants may encourage victims to use alcohol or may identify individuals who are already drunk. Alcohol is not a cause of rape, but is one of many tools that perpetrators use.
MYTH: If the victim did not physically struggle with or fight the assailant, it wasn’t really rape.
FACT: Assailants are not looking for a fight. They use many forms of coercion, threats and manipulation to rape. Alcohol and other drugs such as Rohypnol are often used to incapacitate victims. Michigan law defines sexual assault by the action of the perpetrator, not the victim. In fact, there is a specific law that says that the victim does not need to resist the perpetrator in order for it to be considered rape.
MYTH: Most perpetrators are strangers to their victims.
FACT: Most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows or is familiar with, such as a neighbor, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner or ex-partner.
MYTH: Serial rapists are uncommon.
FACT: Most perpetrators of sexual assault are serial, meaning that they choose to use coercion, violence, threats of force, etc., to assault multiple victims.