You may be feeling a range of different emotions about your friend going through something like this. There is no right or wrong way to feel and however you feel is okay. It can be difficult to know how to help and it’s important to let your friend guide you in what feels right for them. We’ve listed below some key points for supporting someone effectively:
• Believe what they say.
• Let them know you are there for them.
• Reassure them that their feelings are normal.
• Be patient, open-minded and respect their decisions – they may not react how you expect and that is ok – there is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma, everyone is different and it may take time for them to feel ready to process what happened.
• Encourage them when they do want to take steps but are finding things difficult, but make sure not to put any pressure on them to make any particular decision or act more quickly.
• Give them choices – it’s useful for them to know their options for reporting to the police, to report to the University (if the perpetrator(s) are University students), to have forensic evidence taken if something happened within the last 7 days, and specialist support options – but it’s ok if they opt not to do any of these things or don’t want to do them right away.
Support from specialist services
Support options to let your friend know about can be found in our article ‘I think I have experienced sexual assault’, and we’ve pulled out the main contacts for your friend here too:
- The Bridge (Bristol’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre)
- If your friend is not in Bristol and is elsewhere in the UK: Find rape and sexual assault referral centres - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
- If your friend is a University of Bristol student, one of our Sexual Violence Liaison Officers can talk them through getting the right support in place, as well as their reporting options.
If your friend is a University of Bristol student, you can fill in a Wellbeing Access form on their behalf, with their permission, so that the Wellbeing team can reach out to them directly. Sometimes it’s really difficult for someone to take the first step on their own and arranging for a support service to get in touch with them proactively can be a really helpful thing to do. Please make sure that they are happy for you to fill in a form on their behalf, and indicate this on the form so the Wellbeing team can take proactive action confident that your friend is expecting to be contacted.
Further information about supporting a loved one who has experienced sexual violence can be found in this SARSAS guide.
Hearing about sexual violence can be really upsetting, and it’s important that you make sure that you also look after yourself. Making sure that you have support is also important for making sure that you are in the best position to be able to support your friend. If you are a University of Bristol student seeking support, our Wellbeing Access team can connect you with further support available here at the University. There may be an equivalent service of this kind at your university if you are studying elsewhere, or there are national services to support you such as the 24/7 Samaritans helpline.