As a friend, you are a good judge of what emotions and behaviors are common for your friend. If your friend, for no apparent reason, begins to act in an atypical manner, don't be afraid to ask directly what is wrong. You may be the first person to respond to your friend's problem, and for a victim of sexual misconduct, this is the starting point of recovery.
People who have experienced sexual misconduct may suffer a range of emotions and reactions, and no two victims of assault will feel exactly the same way about their experience. There are some "red flag" indicators that your friend has experienced sexual misconduct:
- Depressed or irritable mood
- Loss if interest in most activities
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot, or difficulty sleeping)
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Changes in energy level, exhaustion
- Nightmares, flashbacks
- Fear for one's own safety
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Excessive guilt, self-blame, or feelings of worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide
- Being excessively alert and easily startled
- General mistrust
Here are some steps you can take to help your friend:
- Believe your friend unconditionally. Don't ask a lot of probing questions and don't express skepticism. Expect your to be confused and don't criticize.
- Let your friend know he or she is not alone. Offer support, offer your time, and remind your friend of available resources.
- Let your friend know it is not his or her fault. Don't blame your friend. Don't start searching for things your friend should have done differently.
- Empower your friend. Help your friend understand and consider options, let your friend make decisions, and offer to go along for support.
- Ask your friend what he or she wants from you. You don't have to guess or try to read your friend's mind; go ahead and talk about what kinds of support he or she needs. Keep talking about this because your friend's needs will change as he or she works through the crisis.
- Tell your friend directly when you see a serious problem. Your friend may have lost perspective or may be struggling to pretend that things are not that serious. When you have good evidence for your concerns, go ahead and share it with your friend. The additional information will probably help him or her consider more realistic options.
- Get outside help when needed. In a crisis, your friend needs more help, not less. A trained therapist may be essential to helping your friend work through the assault and resume more effective coping. Your friend may need other forms of support, like dropping classes or changing his or her place of residence. Your friend may also need limits on self-destructive behavior following an assault, such as excessive drinking, risk-taking, or suicidal behavior.
- Don't exclude other people from helping your friend. Don't try to do the job of people who have training to do it (such as therapists). If you do all the problem-solving, your friend may miss opportunities to learn new ways of coping. He or she may also be reluctant to confront important but painful issues in therapy if they have already been discussed with you.
- If someone you know within the Lake Region State College community has experienced sexual misconduct, we can help you help them. Sometimes, the most valuable advice comes from someone the individual already trusts. Whether you’re a friend, roommate, parent, or concerned member of our faculty or staff, we can point you to resources that you can share, as well as provide support for you through the process.
- Confirm the person’s safety. Ask them, “Are you safe right now?” If they say no, help them create a plan to get to a safe place. Call 911 if necessary.
- Provide nonjudgmental support. Your role is not to determine whether or not something occurred. Your primary responsibility is to remain supportive, while referring the person to others who are trained in providing assistance and/or intervention.
- Help the person get medical care if needed.
- Help the person consider whether to make a report with the police or with the college.
- Direct the person to on-campus or off-campus confidential counseling and advocacy resources.
- Let the person know who at Lake Region State College they can contact to request interim measures and accommodations such as no-contact directives, housing relocation, adjustment of schedules, time off, etc.
- Report, as required
All Lake Region State College employees, including student employees, are considered responsible employees and are required to report incidents of sexual misconduct. As a responsible employee, you should explain your reporting responsibilities to the person who has disclosed the information to you.
While you are not expected to act as a counselor, when you are with someone who has experienced sexual misconduct, you should be aware that the supportiveness of your response can be critical in the healing process. Though there is no one “right” way to respond, the following may serve as a guide identifying more or less helpful responses:
What you can do:
- Give the victim your complete attention.
- Validate the victim’s feelings.
- Tell the victim:
- “Your health and safety are my priority.”
- “I am sorry this happened to you.”
- “This was not your fault.”
- “You have options.”
- “Thank you for coming forward.”
- “Let’s take this one step at a time.”
- Offer the victim options:
- “Where would you like to sit or would you like to stand?”
- “Is it okay if I sit here?”
- “Can I get you something?”
- “Would you like to call someone for support?”
- Ask the victim what they need.
- Provide the victim with information about the resources available to them, including confidential counseling, medical resources and reporting resources.
- Suggest to the victim that they preserve evidence.
- Follow up with the victim.
- Report the incident to the appropriate Title IX Coordinator if you are a college employee.
- Take care of yourself after dealing with the situation. Get support for yourself if you need it. Consider speaking with a confidential counselor.
What you shouldn't do:
- Tell the victim that you know what they are going through.
- Label the experience for the victim or make any legal conclusions.
- Minimize the victim’s experience (e.g. that’s just how that person is.)
- Tell the victim what they should do or make decisions for them.
- Ask the victim questions that suggest they are to blame (e.g. What were you drinking? What were you wearing? Why didn’t you run? What were you doing in that place?)
- Question whether the victim is telling the truth or show doubt about their story.
- Tell the victim that they need some proof or evidence.
- Touch the victim’s leg, shoulder, hand, etc. unless they have explicitly told you that it is okay to do so.
- Talk about your own issues or history.
- Guarantee complete confidentiality, particularly if you are a responsible employee with a reporting obligation.
- Panic. Take a deep breath and focus on listening to the victim.