If you are a parent, friend, staff member, or an acquaintance of someone that you suspect has been sexually assaulted or is in an abusive relationship, please use the following information and guidelines to support you in the process of approaching that person. Counseling and Psychological Services is available to consult and assist if you are concerned about someone in particular.
Many students are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused by their intimate partners each year. If you are concerned about a student, perhaps you feel the problem will work itself out. This is very unlikely. Violence and abuse in relationships usually continues and often gets worse over time if no action is taken to stop it. You can help by being honest about your concerns. Say something. While the suggestions listed below emphasize a friendship, these guidelines can be used if you are a parent, faculty, or staff member.
- Say something. Lend a listening ear. Tell your friend that you care and are willing to listen. Don’t force the issue, but allow your friend to confide in you at her/his own pace. Never blame your friend for what is happening or underestimate her/his fear of potential danger. Focus on supporting your friend’s right to make her/his own decisions.
- Do not ever judge survivors. Tell them that you are sorry they have been hurt. No matter what their behavior prior to the assault, they are NOT responsible- the perpetrator is. No one deserves to be raped.
- Remind survivors that their confusing feelings are normal. They may feel “crazy.” Assure survivors they are not and any feeling or reaction is normal.
- Validate survivors in their feelings even if they feel that everything is terrible and even if you feel frustrated with their recovery.
- Become informed. Find out all the facts you can about dating violence. Contact offices on campus that address sexual and dating violence, or contact the local program(s) in your area that assist victims of domestic violence. Look for books about dating violence in your local library. Visit the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance website and/or call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.838.8238. There is also a list of resources on our website.
- Guide your friend to community services. Gather information about dating/domestic violence programs in your area and on campus. These programs offer safety, advocacy, support, legal information, and other needed services. If your friend asks for advice on what s/he should do, share the information you’ve gathered. Let your friend know your s/he is not alone and people are available to help. Encourage her/him to seek the assistance of dating/domestic violence victim advocates. Assure her/him that they will keep information confidential.
- Focus on her/his strengths. Your friend has probably continually been told by the abusive person that s/he is a bad person, a bad student, or a bad friend. Your friend may believe s/he can’t do anything right and that there really is something wrong with her/him. Give her/him emotional support. Help her/him examine her/his strengths and skills. Emphasize that s/he deserves a life that is free from violence.
- If your friend decides to end the relationship… Help her/him make a plan to be safe. S/he may want to call a local domestic violence hotline to help create a “safety plan”. Domestic violence programs can help her/him look at her/his options and make a plan to be as safe as possible. Victims of dating violence may face the greater risk when they try to end the abusive relationship. If the abusive person feels s/he has lost control, s/he may become very dangerous.
- Find your own support. You cannot support someone else if you are not supported. However, do not try to receive that support from the survivor.