Helping Someone Else
A friend, student, or co-worker who has experienced sexual or interpersonal misconduct may want to confide in you. When someone you know experiences sexual or interpersonal misconduct, it can be a frightening and confusing time for them and for you. Remember that the person needs to feel safe and believed, know they were not at fault, and take control of their life. They may also need to obtain medical assistance. As you may not be prepared for that conversation at the moment it happens, consider the following tips:
Helpful things to say
- Thank you for telling me
- I believe you
- It’s not your fault
- I’m sorry that happened to you
- What can I do to help?
- You are a strong person
- I’m glad you told me
If you are a Drake employee and you receive a report about sexual or interpersonal misconduct, you likely have an obligation to notify the Title IX coordinator. You may want to share this obligation with the person.
Things to Do
- Believe them. The most common reason many people choose not to tell anyone about sexual or interpersonal misconduct is the fear that the listener won’t believe them. People rarely lie or exaggerate about these types of violence; in fact, survivors are much more likely to downplay the violence against them. If someone tells you, it’s because they trust you and need to talk to someone.
- Be there and give comfort. If possible, stay with the person. Be there as much as you can and encourage the survivor to talk to others. Thank the survivor for feeling like you are a safe person to talk to. It’s not easy to tell someone about a sexual assault or dating violence and you, as a listener, should feel grateful that the survivor feels you are a safe person to talk to about the incident.
- Get help. Sometimes a person needs medical attention or other emergency or advocacy help or support from other people besides friends. You can help your friend find the resources that are needed, including:
- Be patient. Don’t try to rush the healing process or “make it better.” Individuals do not heal at the same pace.
- Validate the survivor’s feelings: their anger, pain and fear. These are natural, healthy responses. They need to feel them, express them, and be heard.
- Express your compassion. If you have feelings of outrage, compassion, pain for their pain, do share them. There is probably nothing more comforting than a genuine human response. Just make sure your feelings don’t overwhelm theirs.
- Accept the person’s choice of what to do. Don’t be overly protective. Ask what is needed, help the survivor list some options, then encourage independent decision-making, even if you disagree. It is very important that the survivor make decisions and have them respected, as it can go a long way in helping them regain a sense of control in their lives.
- Stay friends. Don’t pull away from the friendship because it’s too hard for you to handle: That will make the person feel like there is something wrong with them. You can always help them find other support people—don’t try to do it alone.
- Respect their privacy. Don’t tell anyone who doesn’t have to know. Don’t gossip about it with mutual friends.
- Listen. Try to be supportive without giving advice. You really can’t know what is best for someone else. A survivor’s power over body and feelings has been temporarily taken away; the person needs support to take that power back, beginning with making his or her own decisions.
- Help yourself. When someone you care about experiences sexual or interpersonal misconduct, it can affect you in a very deep way. You have your own needs and feelings, which are probably somewhat different than your friend’s. Find someone you can go to without violating your friend’s confidence.
Things to Avoid
- Interrogating or asking for specifics. You are not an investigator. Just listen.
- Don’t ask “why” questions such as “why did you go there?” or “why didn’t you scream?” We all react differently to traumatic events—there is no one “right” thing to do when it happens—so don’t judge how the person responded. They did what they needed to do.
- Don’t tell them what you would have done, what they should have done, or what they should do now. Again, just listen.
- Another common fear in telling someone about sexual or interpersonal misconduct is that the person will think it was somehow their fault. No one deserves sexual or dating violence, no matter what.
- Resist seeing the survivor as a victim. Continue to see them as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming their own life.
Additional tips for helping someone else can be found in this resource from Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
For Drake University employees
According to Drake University’s Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct Policy, all Drake faculty and staff who are not exempted as confidential (i.e., Student Counseling, Student Health) must notify the Title IX coordinator of incidents of sexual or interpersonal misconduct. To notify the Title IX coordinator, you may do so in person, through phone or email, or through an online report. Upon receiving the information, the Title IX coordinator will evaluate the information received and determine what further actions should be taken. For example, the Title IX coordinator will take steps, either directly with the individual or through the employee, to provide information about the University's policies as well as available health and advocacy resources and options for criminal reporting.
You can always let the person know that you carry this obligation to notify the University. But do not indicate or state that you can keep the matter to yourself. The person may decide not to tell you anything further, which is fine. Please try to share resources nonetheless, especially ways the person can find support through an advocate or counseling.