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Sexual Harassment and Assault – Response and Education

How to support a friend

When someone has been sexually assaulted or is experiencing/questioning an abusive relationship, they most often disclose their experience to a trusted friend. A concerned, kind, non-judgmental response from someone who cares has been shown to be the most important first step toward healing. Consider the following guidelines so you know what to say:

  • Be sure your friend knows you believe them.
  • Reassure your friend that whatever happened is not their fault.
  • Avoid blaming questions like:
    • “Why did you let them into your room?”
    • “Why did you drink so much?”
    • Why do you stay in that relationship?”
  • Use open-ended questions such as;
    • “What do you need?”
    • “I want to help; what can I do?”
  • Avoid telling your friend what to do; gently suggest resources:
    • “Would making an appointment at Cornell Health be helpful?”
    • “Have you considered who else you might be comfortable talking to about the way you’ve been feeling?”
    • “Have you considered reporting what happened?”
  • Allow your friend to make their own decisions about support options, counseling options, reporting, and whether they should seek medical care. Support their decisions.
  • If you know the perpetrator, avoid comments like, “they would never do that,” “they’re not that kind of person,” or “I find that hard to believe.”
  • Acknowledge that something distressing happened and encourage your friend to take the time they need for healing and recovery. And always counter any self-blame you hear with,“What happened was not your fault,” or “you were not to blame in any way for what they did to you.”
  • Be sure your friend knows about the available resources. 






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