It can be difficult when a friend or loved one has experienced sexual misconduct. The following was adapted from information provided by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC).
How to Help as a Friend
- Be a good listener. Listening is one of the most important ways you can support your friend. Some people will want to talk right away, and others will need some time. Let the person you care about know that you will be ready when (s)he is. Let them talk while you simply listen.
- Be aware of the need for privacy. A college campus can feel like a very small community. Always ask for permission before you tell someone about your friend’s experience. By asking first, you are helping to give them some control over the situation.
- You may want to talk to other people about what is going on so you don’t feel like you are carrying it all alone. Violence Prevention & Response is available to you. The staff at VPR can give you the help and support you need without compromising the privacy of your friend.
- Allow your friend to consider all options. This can be challenging when you may be impacted by their choices. For example: This is your best friend, the idea that they would transfer schools is distressing; You are a parent with high hopes and aspirations for your child, the idea of them taking a semester off is understandable but upsetting. These are just two examples of the many ways that you may be challenged in offering unconditional support to your friend. Respecting and supporting their choices is important to help them feel in control of their lives again.
- Get informed. Learn more about the resources at MIT.
- Take care of yourself. You are an important person in your friend’s life if they chose to tell you about their assault. Take care of yourself and your feelings so you will be better able to help your friend.
How to Help as a Parent
As a parent it can be extremely difficult and overwhelming to hear that your child has been sexually assaulted. It can be hard to know how to act or what to say. The most important thing you can do is help your child feel safe and supported. Students at MIT have a number of resources available to assist them in dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.
Everyone responds differently to sexual assault. Frequent responses include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness, and guilt. It is important that your child be allowed to experience and process through these feelings without the fear of having them invalidated or dismissed.
- Believe your child when they confide in you. Don’t pressure them to talk. It is better to go slowly and let them set the pace. Listen and help them process through their feelings. Validate their anger, pain, and fear. These are natural responses that need to be felt, expressed, and heard. It is okay to tell your child that this is a difficult topic for you to talk about. Let them know that you are open to talk about anything, even if it is uncomfortable.
- Do not blame your child, or yourself. Avoid asking “why” questions as much as possible because these often imply blame. Focus on their needs. If they didn’t tell you immediately about the assault, listen to their reasons. It is very common for survivors to wait before sharing with people they love. Reassure them that they have your love and support.
- Take the necessary steps to protect and ensure your child’s safety. Encourage them to seek medical attention, or alternative housing if necessary. Understand that your child has the right to decide what steps are necessary to take. It’s important that your child regain a sense of control. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away an individual’s power. It can make them feel invaded, changed, and out of control. It is crucial for survivors to be able to make their own decisions in order to regain power over their own lives.
- Discuss with your child their options and ask them what they want to do next. This may or may not include contacting a counselor, advocate, judicial officer and/or the police. Reporting a sexual assault crime can be a very difficult, long, and painful process for survivors. It is not an appropriate option for everyone, but a trained advocate can help you both navigate through their options.
- Make sure your child gets the professional care and support they may need. Counseling can be very helpful in assisting your child through the healing process of coping with the sexual assault. Remember that every person’s healing process is unique.
- Recognize your child’s need for privacy. Their boundaries have been violated and reclaiming personal space is important. Respect the time and space it takes to heal after a sexual assault.
- Take care of yourself. Educate yourself about sexual assault and the healing process. Realize when you’ve reached your own limitations. Find a supportive person or counselor with whom you can share your strong feelings with so that your conversations with your son or daughter can focus on their needs.
- Seek immediate professional help if your child displays any suicidal behaviors or if you are worried about their emotional or physical well-being. MIT Victim Advocates are available 24/7 at the Violence Prevention & Response office by calling 617-253-2300.