One of the most important things you can do for your friend is to be there for them. Let them know that they can share their thoughts and feelings with you. Don't ask them to share more than they're comfortable with, but do listen to what they voluntarily share. You can check-in with them occasionally to remind them that they can come to you to talk if they need to.
Validate their feelings and thoughts, but don't label the experience for them.
Let your friend know that you believe them and that what happened to them wasn't their fault. A survivor could have many different reactions, whether it's shame, guilt, fear, regret, anger, confusion, numbness or something else; let them know that all of these feelings are valid and normal, and that it's okay for them to feel whatever it is they're feeling.
It is tempting to want to tell a survivor that you "know what they're going through," especially if you've been through sexual assault, stalking, or relationship violence yourself, but it is important to remember that each experience is different. Only that person knows exactly what their particular experience was like. You can use validating and comforting phrases like "I can only imagine how difficult this is for you."
Your friend may also tell you a story, but not call it rape or violence. They may not label it because they may not know what these terms mean, or because using the words may feel too big or frightening. It is important to not label the experience for them, but to still validate that what happened was wrong and that it was not their fault.
Offer options, but don't tell them what to do.
The decision to reach out for support or to make a report is entirely up to the survivor. If your friend wants support or to make a report, you can tell them about some of the options available on and off campus,
but ultimately choosing to access support is up to them. Talking to someone else may feel scary, and they may go back and forth about what to do. Listen and validate their feelings, and support whatever decision they ultimately make - even if that decision changes multiple times.
Support their safety and self-care.
Safety can look different for each survivor. They may want to avoid the perpetrator, avoid certain areas of campus, or have a plan in place to cope with potential danger. Safety needs can change over time and from day to day. You can help your friend by validating their safety concerns and by helping them make a safety plan; you can get ideas for a Rice-specific safety plan here.
Self-care helps a person establish and maintain their mental, physical, and emotional health. It can include physical, social, or psychological activities such as exercise, journaling, meditation, watching a favorite movie or listening to music, spending time with friends or alone, or many other things. People who have experienced trauma may find it hard to practice and maintain their self-care, or may find that the self-care activities they used before the trauma are no longer as effective. They may need help coming up with new ways to care for themselves. You can support your friend in their self-care by respecting the time they set aside for these activities. You can also offer to participate in activities with your friend, remembering to be respectful if they do not want to engage with you or the suggested activity. If your friend is having a hard time with their self-care, they may want to talk with a counselor or therapist who can help them create a plan.
Sometimes your friend may cope with what happened to them in ways that seem negative or impede their functioning, like increasing their use of alcohol or skipping classes. While it is important to understand that these behaviors are a manifestation of your friend doing the best they can to cope with overwhelming trauma, they may also need support to find healthier coping skills. You may want to talk to your friend about seeking help from a counselor or someone else they trust.
If you wouuld like to speak to someone in The SAFE Office, please feel free to contact the Office at firstname.lastname@example.org