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Sexual Violence and Rape: How to Help a Friend

If a friend confides they have been raped, sexually abused, or assaulted, your support can mean a lot. The way you can help depends on the situation.

What if a Friend Needs Help Right Now?

If your friend needs help right now, you can:

  • Call or text the National Sexual Assault Hotline or 800-656-HOPE (4763). It’s free and confidential. Trained counselors are there to help 24 hours a day. They can tell you where to go for care in your area. They can explain the next steps to take. For example, if someone has been raped or sexually assaulted, they can explain why it’s best not to wash, shower, use the bathroom, or change clothes before getting medical care. If your friend is injured and needs medical care, you can also call 911 or go to a local urgent care center.
  • Be with your friend to offer comfort and support. Do your best to stay calm.
  • Ask if there’s someone else they want you to call for them, like a parent or close relative.

What if a Friend Confides About Sexual Violence From the Past?

If your friend tells you about something that happened in the past, your support may matter more than you know. You can:

  • Listen. Let your friend decide when and how much to confide. Don’t ask lots of questions or pressure them for details. Let them tell you in their own words. And remind them that anytime they want to talk, you’ll listen.
  • Respond in a caring way. It can help to say something like, “I’m really sorry that happened to you.” Or you could say, “That’s a lot to go through.” Let them know that you believe what they’re telling you.
  • Ask how they’re doing now — and if they have the care and support they need. Sexual violence sometimes causes injuries or health issues that need medical care. It also can cause deep emotional hurt called trauma. To fully heal, people may need therapy that helps them work through emotional trauma. Some people need other things too. For example, some need help learning how to leave an abusive relationship. Some need to find out how to report harassment or violence.
  • Look for and share good resources. Use safe online resources. Good resources have information and guidance you can trust. They also can connect your friend with counselors who are trained to help. Here are some resources you can trust:
  • Tell your friend that what happened is not their fault. Maybe they regret being with someone who was violent or abusive. Or they might think, “If only I had…” or “If only I hadn’t…” It’s easy to understand why people might feel and think these things. But there is nothing they did — or didn’t do — to deserve or cause what happened.
  • Encourage your friend. At times, your friend may feel discouraged or think they will never feel OK again. To help, let your friend know you see that what happened was hard to go through. Also tell them you see their strength, and they have what it takes to move through this. Remind them it’s OK to take their time. Say you’ll be there to support them along the way.
  • Thank your friend for sharing their story with you. It takes courage to share a story of sexual violence. It means a lot to have a friend who is willing to confide in you. It says they trust you and value your friendship. Be sure to honor that trust — and their privacy. Don’t repeat your friend’s story to others. Leave it up to your friend to decide who to tell.
  • Just be a friend. At times, check in with your friend and ask how they’re doing. But don’t make it the only thing you talk about. What happened affects them, but it doesn’t define them as a person. Talk about lots of things together. Do activities you both enjoy. Having a friend to count on — and being that kind of friend — lifts both people.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date Reviewed: Jul 1, 2023

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