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Sexual Assault—What to Do When It Happens to a Friend

abusive relationship, abuse
By , 18, Contributor Originally Published: September 27, 2018 Revised: April 8, 2022

A few years ago, allegations of sexual assault against then Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh reignited the #MeToo movement and sparked a storm of online conversation about sexual assault. Many came to the defense of the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, sharing stories with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.

It’s unfair to place the burden on a victim to “not get raped.” Instead, we need to tell young people not to rape.

Others called her a liar—or worse.

But for young people, who aren’t on the national stage debating the appointment of lifelong government officials, this story had a significance that hits much closer to home. Every 68 seconds, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. The overwhelming majority of women (as well as plenty of men) report experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.

That means if it isn’t happening to you, it has probably or will happen to someone you care about. This leads to the question: “What should I do if someone I care about tells me they’ve been sexually assaulted?” Here are some suggestions.

1. Make Sure Your Friend Is Safe.

The top priority for a victim of sexual assault should be to make sure they are not in any current danger. If someone tells you long after the fact, this may not be a problem. But if someone confides in you immediately after a sexual assault occurred, it’s important to remove them from the situation and find a space where they feel safe and secure. For example, if they were attacked at a party, consider going to the bathroom and locking the door. (Or better yet, leave.)

2. Get Help.

If your friend chooses to get help, there are resources for survivors of sexual assault. In the short-term, there are crisis resources like the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and’s confidential online chat service. There are also school counselors, therapists, a parent or relative, religious leaders and police officers and legal advocates

If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, encourage them to take advantage of one of these resources. Asking for help can be scary. But sexual assault is a traumatic experience. It won’t go away by ignoring it or keeping it to yourself.

3. Believe Them.

It doesn’t matter what someone was wearing, how they were acting or what they were drinking. It doesn’t matter what someone’s age, gender, sexual orientation or relationship to their assailant is.

If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, it can be hurtful to ask what they might have done to “provoke” it–most notably because the answer is nothing. It is never the victim’s fault. Let them know that, and that you believe what they experienced.

4. Know It’s Not Their Fault, or Yours.

It’s unfair to place the burden on a victim to “not get raped.” Instead, we need to tell young people not to rape.

When someone you love is hurting, you may feel like you need to take that burden onto yourself. But you can’t “fix” them. You can only support them.

5. Be Patient.

Sexual assault is complicated. Different people react in different ways. Some may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or depression. Others may not. Some may come forward immediately. For others, it may take years. Some may want to take legal action. Others will not.

There is no wrong way to react to being sexually assaulted. Even if someone may be reluctant to open up or accept help, it’s important to be understanding, patient and supportive. Don’t pry for excessive details or ask invasive questions. Just be there for them.

With help from community resources and the support of loved ones, recovery from this experience is possible. Make sure your loved one knows they are not alone.

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