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How to support a friend

Many individuals who experience sexual violence and harassment confide in their friends and loved ones. This page offers some ways you can help support a friend. Creating a community that cares for and supports victims and survivors is key to building a culture that rejects sexual violence at Virginia Tech.

The Basics

  • Listen. Actively listen to what your friend has to say, without judging or pressing for details. Let them talk at their own pace and keep the focus of the conversation on them and how they are feeling.
  • Reassure. Let your friend know that you are there for them and they can talk to you. Reassure them that what happened was not their fault and whatever they are feeling about what happened is okay.
  • Help. You can help your friend find confidential resources and explore options for reporting what happened. Keep in mind that they are in control of what they want to do next and who they share this deeply personal information with. Sharing information about resources and supporting your friend in the reporting process will help them plan for their next steps when they feel ready. Let them know that you support them in whatever choices they make.

What to expect

Everyone experiences sexual harassment and violence differently. There is no right way for someone to act. Sexual harassment and violence can have a deep and lasting impact on those who experience it.

Some common impacts of sexual harassment and violence may include:

  • Trauma. People who have survived sexual or intimate partner violence may experience trauma, which might make it difficult for them to remember some details of the incident. It may also make it difficult to talk about what they do remember. Some people may have nightmares, flashbacks, or intense memories about what happened.
  • Preoccupation. Some survivors may be preoccupied with thoughts and feelings about the assault. It may be hard for them to focus on other things, and they may want to talk often about what happened.
  • Depression. Some people may experience feelings of depression following an incident. This may look like sadness and tearfulness but might also look different. Loss of interest in social interactions and previously enjoyed activities, lack of self-care, loss of interest in school or work, and thoughts of self-harm may also be red flags that your friend needs help.
  • Anxiousness. Many survivors experience stress and anxiousness. This can sometimes look like taking extra or unusual measures to protect themselves or others safety, heightened worrying, or avoiding certain places and situations that feel unsafe or remind them of the assault.
  • Anger. It is normal to feel angry after an assault or incident of harassment. That anger might be focused on the person who hurt them, the situation they were in, or a general anger that this happened to them.
  • Uncertainty. Decisions about what to do after experiencing an assault are personal and sometimes difficult. Many survivors need time and support to decide what their next best step is.
  • Numbness. It is common for people who have experienced violence to not show any signs or significant emotions about what happened. Some people may seem without emotion, or some may talk about their experience matter-of-factly, as if it were an everyday occurrence. This is not a sign that they are not being honest about what happened or are not in need of help and support.
  • Other Symptoms. After experiencing harassment or violence, some people might have difficulty sleeping or concentrating or may experience headaches, stomach aches, lack of energy, and fatigue.

Taking care of you too.

Knowing that someone you care for has been hurt can be hard. It’s not unusual for friends and family who support survivors and victims of sexual violence to need help too. If you need to talk with someone about how you are coping, there is help for you. Consider reaching out to a confidential resource for help and for someone to talk to.