CampusLife

Wellness Center

How to Help a Survivor

If Someone You Know Has Been Assaulted:

  • Believe them. Nothing can be more devastating to a victim/survivor of sexual violence than knowing that their friends don’t believe what they are saying.  
  • Establish yourself as a safe person & make sure that the victim/survivor feels safe. Being a safe person means that you are a person that won’t pass any judgment and will let your friend lead their own recovery process. Just doing this help your friend feel safe. Allow them to decide what makes them feel safe, don’t choose it for them.
  • Let them talk. Just having someone listen is a huge help for the victim/survivor. No matter how hard it is for you to understand or hear, it is harder for them to say. Do not impose your own thoughts or feelings on the victim/survivor – especially judgmental ones.
  • Don’t try to rationalize what happened. It may be that if your friend knew the person that hurt them, so do you. The situation can be hard to understand but the perpetrator’s actions are never justified. Never make excuses for the offender.  
  • Provide options to the survivor and let them choose which option is best. Sexual assault is a fundamental loss of control for the survivor and they are the only person that understands what is right for them. Never force them to do anything that they do not want to do – this would only increase their trauma by continuing their loss of control.
  • Let the survivor “name” their victimization and then you use their “name”. Use the same words that the survivor is using to talk about what happened to them. If they are not saying “rape”, don’t say “rape”.
  • Be patient. Healing from a sexual assault takes time. Be patient and continue to offer your support to your friend throughout the coming weeks and months, or even longer. Remember that every healing process is unique.
  • Do not avoid the survivor or the subject. For a survivor, the thought of people being scared of them may be a huge concern. If you avoid your friend, you may be reinforcing their shame and fear.  
  • Educate yourself about sexual violence and the trauma associated with it. It is not the survivor’s job to help you to understand what happened to them. RAINN or one of AU's confidential victim advocates can provide you 
    with information.   
  • Refer them to RAINN or the DC Rape Crisis Center where they can get information or help. If they aren’t interested in these resources, don’t force these options on them. You can contact these resources for guidance on how to help your friend.
  • Get help for yourself. Having a friend who has been victimized can be a scary and confusing experience. The AU counseling center can help you process what has happened. Additionally, you can contact one of AU's confidential victim advocates to learn more about how you can understand this experience, how to help, and how you can get involved in anti-sexual violence work.

For Friends and Loved Ones:

If a friend discloses to you:

  • Help empower your friend and loved one. Sexual assault is a crime that often leaves a survivor feeling powerless. Therefore it is critical that the support system around a survivor is not compounding the problem by pressuring them to do things they are not ready to do. Allow them to make their own decisions and to set the pace and tone of the discussion.
  • Create a safe space to talk. Whether it’s a dorm room, apartment, or a quiet spot off campus, ensure that the survivor feels comfortable and safe.
  • Encourage contact with outside resources. You may encourage your friend/loved one to contact RAINN or the DC Rape Crisis Hotline, but never pressure them to report anything that they do not want to report. It is their decision whether or not to get help, nevertheless make a report. Informing a survivor of the available resources will allow you to help empower them.
  • Suicidal ideation should be treated seriously. If your friend or loved one mentions thoughts of suicide, immediately get them support from appropriate resources. Contact a Resident Assistant, Resident Director, or any other University staff that can help.  Be sure to follow up any survivor who mentions that they had thoughts of suicide in the past.
  • Find support for yourself. Assisting a friend or loved one who has survived a sexual assault can be a difficult experience. The only way to ensure that you're able to provide the best support to your friend or loved one is to take care of yourself throughout the process. Anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence may contact one of American University's confidential victim advocates. 

For additional information, please contact Daniel Rappaport, Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator, at rappapor@american.edu or Sara Yzaguirre, Coordinator for Victim Advocacy Services at sarayza@american.edu.

For Faculty and Staff

If a student discloses their assault to you:

  • Listen with understanding and empathy. Allow them to speak and support whatever decisions they may make. Discussing their experience may be difficult and there is a tremendous amount of trust implicit in their disclosure.
  • Inform them of university policies and procedures. If you are not a confidential resource, let them know before they continue. Refer them to confidential resources that are available.
  • Familiarize them with the appropriate resources that are available on campus. Start with Sexual Violence Resources.
  • Find support for yourself. Assisting a student who has survived a sexual assault can be a difficult experience. The only way to ensure that you're able to provide the best support to your student is to take care of yourself throughout the process. Anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by sexual violence may contact one of American University's confidential victim advocates: Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator Daniel Rappaport at rappapor@american.edu or Sara Yzaguirre, Coordinator for Victim Advocacy Services at sarayza@american.edu.