If someone you care about confides in you that they have been accused of sexual misconduct, it may be difficult to know what to do next. You may be struggling with your own questions and mixed emotions about the situation and may be unsure how to respond.
Know that it is natural for you to feel conflicted regarding your response, but also know that simply providing advice and emotional support in no way condones the alleged behavior, but represents a simple act of compassion and care for the person.
Here are some ways that you can help:
- Listen. Provide an open atmosphere for the person to share their honest feelings and tell things their point of view. This does not mean that you need to affirm or condone your friend’s alleged behavior, but simply that you will provide compassion as they attempt to work through this difficult experience.
- Be honest. Let the person know how much and what kind of support you are willing give.
- Provide resources. Help your friend explore support options on campus that will assist in dealing with the situation. Encourage your friend to consult with professionals in Respondent Services. This office can provide resources to any student charged with a sexual assault. Connecting the person with these resources will help provide the support and information they need to better understand and work through the process ahead.
- Remain neutral. Don’t blame the person or the survivor/victim for what happened. If you weren’t there, you don’t know. Your focus should be on support, not taking sides or placing blame.
- Respect privacy. Don’t share the person’s experience with others or speculate what might have happened.
- Educate yourself. Sexual assault and other forms of violence can be incredibly complex. Increasing your own understanding of sexual assault and sexual violence may help you to process your own feelings about the incident as well as assist the person with the process that may be ahead.
- Get support for yourself. Supporting anyone through a trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role. Recognize this and don’t hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it. You cannot effectively support your friend without being mindful of your own health and well-being.
How do you support the person who was hurt while respecting your relationship with your friend?
Separate the person from their actions.
All kinds of people are capable of harming others, and everyone has mistreated someone else at some point, even if unintentionally. It’s important not to stamp people as “bad” once they’ve done something wrong, or assume that someone “good” cannot cause harm.
Separate intent from impact.
At the same time, just because your friend meant well doesn’t mean it didn’t cause harm. It’s important not to minimize the impact of their actions just because they didn’t intend to hurt anyone. When a person who commits harm is popular, the person who experienced it may fear they won’t be supported if they bring it up.
Approach the situation with empathy.
When talking to a friend about their harmful behavior, it can help to come with a good dose of compassion. Remember times when you’ve made mistakes and had to learn and grow. You may even remind your friend that you’ve been in a situation where you caused harm to another person and were able to grow from that experience.
Don’t try to ignore it.
It can be tempting to simply ignore the actions of a friend, convincing ourselves it wasn’t so bad or hoping someone else will deal with it. It’s understandable to want to avoid conflict with people we care about, but it’s important to be brave and give your friend the opportunity to do the same by learning and doing better.
Warning signs that the person needs additional help:
If a person is suicidal, or making credible threats towards another person, please call 9-1-1 for emergency services.
- Increased or unhealthy use of drugs/alcohol
- Potential threat to themselves or others
- Current or emerging mental health issues
- Challenges with academic schedules or obligations
- Social stigma or rejection
- Excessive sleeping/ Not sleeping
- Over-eating/ Not eating
- Intense preoccupation with the case or others involved
- Making threats to harm themselves or others, even jokingly
If you are concerned about a respondent and would like a case manager from UMatter to reach out to them, please complete a CARE Referral.