Kelly Addington & Becca Tieder, Professional Speakers and Co-Founders of Unite for Change
All too often we hear the frightening statistic that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted while in college. What would you say to a friend, girlfriend or partner who tells you they were sexually assaulted? At some point in every man’s life, someone close to him will likely disclose that they are a survivor of sexual violence and ask for help. More and more men on college campuses today have a friend or partner who confides in them and often they aren’t quite sure how to react. A supportive male presence during a survivor’s recovery can be invaluable which is why it’s necessary to understand the importance of your role in the healing process and to be prepared to respond with care and understanding, as a brother for change.
People who have been sexually assaulted often experience a range of emotions and reactions; no two survivors of assault will feel exactly the same. After an assault a survivor begins a difficult struggle to gain control of their life and to heal their soul. They often have feelings of fear, guilt, anger, loss of control, panic or shame. Sometimes survivors will experience a stage of shock or numbness. They may try to ignore what has happened to them in hopes that the feelings will disappear. Some survivors do not want to talk about the assault and try to forget that it happened. At some point something could trigger the survivor’s memory and the thoughts and feelings of what happened could suddenly reappear. This could happen weeks, months or even years after the assault took place. It’s important to keep in mind that survivors heal in their own way at their own pace.
As a friend, family member or partner, your help during this process is essential. Survivors need a great deal of support and caring as they begin to address and work through this very frightening experience. Remember that your primary role is to be a friend and your support and understanding are important factors in the healing. You are not a counselor, or a lawyer, or a doctor; your friend should turn to professionals for the best information on emotional, legal and medical issues.
Steps you can take to help:
Believe your friend unconditionally. Expect a friend in crisis to be confused and don’t criticize. It’s not your role to question whether or not they were sexually assaulted.
Help them explore their options
Don’t pressure them to do what you want to do. Empower your friend! Let them know they are not alone and remind them of available resources (campus counselor, campus or community rape crisis center, women’s center, hospital, police department, peer educators, etc).
Allow them to react
Remember, there are many ways for a survivor to respond after being raped. Don’t ask a lot of probing questions.
No more violence
It’s important to remain calm and as hard as it may be, it’s important to refrain from offering to “hurt the person who did this to them.” Although it’s natural to want to protect your friend, an aggressive reaction is not a good response.
Listen to them
Offer your support and offer your time. Let your friend know that they can talk to you about their experience when they are ready.
Let the survivor be in control
Encourage them, but let them be in control. They decide if they want to talk with someone, press charges, etc.
Encourage them to seek help
Talk about the kind of support they need and keep talking about it because their needs will change as they work through the crisis. If they suspect they have been drugged encourage them to go to the hospital immediately to have a rape kit done and to be tested for drugs in their system.
Seek professional help
Insist that your friend seek help if the crisis escalates to the point of being worried about their safety or long-term well being.
Never blame them
Say clearly and with care, “It was not your fault.”
Get help for yourself
Don’t blame yourself for the feelings you may have after learning someone close to you has been sexually assaulted. It’s important to pay attention to your own needs and express them to your friend and others.
If you are their partner, with their approval, use appropriate touching and language to reestablish their feelings of worth. Gentle touching will help let them know that you understand and respect them. Let the survivor decide when sexual activity should begin again.
After some time has passed you may wonder if the survivor has moved on and no longer thinks about the assault. This is extremely rare. Recovery is a long process. Check in with the survivor to let them know you are there whenever they need to talk about it.
As a friend or partner of someone who has been sexually assaulted you may experience feelings of guilt, fear, anger and helplessness and you might need someone other than the survivor to talk to about your feelings. It’s important for you to get help for yourself too. We recommend speaking with an advocate or counselor. If you choose to talk with a family member or another friend, remember to respect the confidentiality of the survivor. Helping a friend through this can be life changing and this may be a good time to examine your own attitude about rape and to learn more about sexual assault and how it affects us all. If the 1 in 4 statistic does not settle well with you (and we certainly hope it doesn’t) do something about it. You can start by becoming a source for social change. We can change things for the better by communicating and influencing one person or a few people at a time.
2. VALUE. Don’t refer to people as whores, sluts, skanks, etc.
3. LEAD. Be a role model and honestly tell people how you feel.
4. RESPECT. Confront language that promotes sexual violence. (Ex: “She’s nice and drunk.” “Look at that outfit, they’re asking for it.”)
5. CONTRIBUTE. Help raise awareness; it can be as easy as posting a message on facebook or myspace.
Students are the most powerful element in changing campus culture and making their community a safer place. As a leader in Greek life you have an opportunity to use your position to make things different, to make your chapter and your campus what you want it to be. Albert Einstein said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” What will you do? To learn more about Brothers 4 Change visit http://www.uniteforchange.com/ or contact Kelly and Becca at firstname.lastname@example.org