A strong support network can be very helpful to a person who has been affected by sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct. Supportive loved ones, family, friends, significant others, and allies can all play a role in helping this person to cope with the impacts of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct.
It is important to remember that people who have experienced sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct react to the incident in a variety of different ways. Additionally, you may not understand why they are reacting a certain way. It is most important to be non-judgmental, supportive, respectful, and listen to the person. Below is some information on helpful ways to support a survivor for anyone who might be in contact with a survivor of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct.
Supporting a Survivor: A Guide for Family and Friends
When sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct affects someone you care about, you may feel upset and confused. At a time when you may want to help most, you might be dealing with a crisis of your own. Your support at a time like this can be extremely helpful to an individual who has experienced prohibited conduct. Here are some guidelines to help you through this time:
Believe their experience without questioning or blaming them. Whatever the circumstances, they are not to blame for their experience. It is very common for victims to blame themselves, so it is important that they know you support them.
Respect the feeling of the individual. They may be greatly impacted by the trauma they have experienced. Help survivors deal with their fear by finding ways to increase their feeling of safety.
Your friend may have strong feelings and they have the right to their emotions. They may feel numb, sad, angry, in denial, terrified, depressed, agitated, or withdrawn. Be supportive by accepting all of their feelings and provide an atmosphere of warmth and safety.
Let them know you want to listen. Try to understand what they are going through.
- Let them talk and do not interrupt.
- Find time to focus on them. Ask what they need from you.
- You may feel nervous about stalls and silences. It's okay to be quiet.
- Try repeating back the things they've said as a way to continue the talking.
- Reassure them that they are not to blame.
- Avoid asking blaming questions such as, "Why did you go there?" or "Why didn't you scream?"
Take the Events Seriously.
Pay attention, help validate the seriousness of their feelings, and recognize their need to work through these feelings. Experiencing sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other form of sexual misconduct can be a shattering experience. Recovery is a process of acceptance and healing which takes time and requires support.
Stay with them as long as they want you to. Many individuals feel frightened and vulnerable about being alone. This will pass with time.
Let Them Make Their Own Decisions.
Do not pressure them into making decisions or doing things they are not ready to do. Help them explore all the options, but respect their privacy and confidentiality. If you are not required to report incidents of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other forms of sexual misconduct based on your role with the University, then it may be beneficial to support the survivor in determining whom to tell about the prohibited conduct. However, faculty and staff who are made aware of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or other form of sexual misconduct must immediately report the incident to the Title IX Coordinator. Source: University of Illinois Women's Resources Center
There are many resources, including counseling and advocacy services, that can help you process and feel empowered as an ally. If you know someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct and are wondering how best to support that person, the following suggestions may be helpful:
- Direct your friend to resources on campus with people who are available to talk with a student accused of sexual misconduct and can help those students understand what may happen next. Helping your friend access these resources is a step you can take to provide support in what may be a confusing and emotional time for both of you.
- Recommend that your friend seek counseling to deal with the emotions that they may be experiencing. Students can access counseling through Counseling Services on campus.
- Educate yourself about sexual misconduct. UF's Title IX webpages can provide information to answer the questions you may have.
- If you are able to do so, be available to listen in a non-judgmental manner. Your friend may not feel comfortable talking about their situation. You can let your friend know whether or not you are comfortable listening to them and how much you can support them.
Remember, helping your friend does not mean:
- Approving of your friend's actions and/or choices. You can help your friend without making a judgment as to whether or not sexual misconduct occurred. It is not your role to determine what happened. That is the responsibility of the campus investigation team and/or the legal system.
- Engaging in harassing or threatening behaviors toward other people involved in the situation. Not only is violence or retaliation not the answer to helping your friend, but such actions may constitute violations of the Sexual Misconduct Policy and could undermine campus disciplinary proceedings or judicial proceedings.
When close friends or loved ones are involved in emotionally difficult situations, it often hard to separate one's self from those situations. Talking to someone about your experiences may help you to deal with this particular situation. If you are a student, the Office of Counseling Services
is available to you. Remember that you cannot effectively support your friend without being mindful of your own health and well-being.