How to Help

When helping a friend/family member through a crisis situation, remember:

Stay calm.  You can do this!  Just listening can be so helpful. Remember, they may just want to talk. The fact that they have come to you is HUGE. That shows that they already know you will be there for them.

Listen. Believe. Support.

1)      Listen to the survivor. You may be the first person the survivor encounters after the incident.  He/she may not want to discuss this with anyone else after you, so it is important to listen carefully to what the survivor is saying. Do not interrupt or ask questions; do not offer the resources you know quite yet, just listen without judgment.

2)      Believe the survivor!  This is extremely important.  It is estimated that people are more likely to fake their own death than lie about a sexual assault. Believe what they said happened, how they say it happened. We can help you discuss any discrepancies with our staff later if need be.

3)      Support whatever the survivor chooses to do next, even if that means they only want to tell you and try to move on. It is important to give them resources and options, and that they know they can pursue these options at any time.  (Click here for some options a survivor has)

Some offices/numbers for a person in crisis:

  • University Hospital: (573)882-4141 (ask for ER charge nurse then for a SANE to be paged) 
  • MU Counseling Center: (573)882-6601
  • RSVP Center: (573)882-6638
  • True North 24/7 Hotline: (573)875-1370
  • MUPD: (573)882-7201
  • Columbia Police Dept: (573)874-7652
*If you have any questions or want more information, please contact the RSVP Center.
What can I do?

Often we want to help, but we can sometimes be insensitive to a survivor’s needs without really intending to do so. There are some things that we can say that unintentionally convey the wrong message.

Click here for a few things to avoid saying to a survivor.

  • “Why didn’t you fight?” or “You shouldn’t have gone to their room.” (Or anything that questions the actions of the survivor.) These types of statements send the message that the survivor could have done something to avoid the attack and that is their fault. One should not question a survivor’s actions. Freezing, submitting, and fighting are ALL natural responses to being attacked.
  • “Were you drunk?” This sends the message that the survivor is partially responsible for the attack. Intoxication does not excuse a perpetrator’s actions, nor does it make the survivor responsible for being assaulted. Remember, consent is enthusiastic, willing participation agreed upon by both parties involved without coercion, force or intoxication.
  • “I’ll kill the person who did this to you!” While anger is a natural reaction, it can be very harmful. The victim has faced one person whose anger was out of control and must now try to calm down another person so that there won’t be more violence. They may feel responsible for upsetting you, thus discouraging them from being able to talk about what happened. It may be helpful for you to reach out for support from a counselor if you are struggling to cope with your reaction or need additional support in processing your reaction.
  • “You should go to the police.” Although going to the police might be a step in the healing process for the survivor, it should be their decision to do so. Allowing them to make decisions to disclose to others or seek services will help the survivor gain back control that was taken away. For more information about the process of reporting to the police or learning more about making a report with the Office of Student Conduct, contact us.

Common Reactions
This is a list of some of the common reactions victims/survivors may experience as a result of sexual assault. Each individual will react in her own way. There is no “right” way to react.

*These are normal reactions and, although painful, are parts of the healing process.

Emotional Reactions

Fear
Depression
Helplessness
Isolation
Emotional numbing
Guilt, self blame
Anxiety
Anger

Cognitive Reactions 

Difficulty concentrating
Difficulty making decisions
Memory disturbances
Flashbacks

Physical Reactions

Fatigue
Difficulty sleeping
Nightmares
Jitteriness
Changes in appetite
Headaches

Your Reaction

There are some common reactions you may experience when learning your friend has been sexually assaulted. You may also experience a range of other emotions. Family and friends may be the best support for a victim/survivor.

  • Click to view some possible reactions

    • Disbelief: Family and friends may react to the sexual assault of a loved one with shock and disbelief, especially if there are no visible signs of the attack. You may even doubt that the assault happened. This is called “denial” and it happens after a traumatic experience.
    • Fear: You may feel intense fear for yourself or for the survivor. You may want to protect her from future assault. Your concern may be reassuring soon after the assault, but too much caution on your part can make it difficult for the survivor to feel capable and in control again.
    • Depression: It is normal to feel sad or depressed. Sexual assault can bring up feelings of powerlessness in victims and those who love them. You may feel that your life is out of control. If depression lasts longer than a few weeks or becomes overwhelming, seek support for yourself.
    • Guilt: Guilt is a common reaction when a loved one has been sexually assaulted. Those closest to the survivor may blame themselves. Whatever you did or did not do, you are not to blame. It is solely the fault of the perpetrator. Instead of blaming yourself, concentrate on the positive things you can do now.
    • Anger: Often loved ones experience anger after a sexual assault. Your first reaction may be to seek revenge against the attacker. This is a normal feeling, but you will not help yourself or the survivor if you are hurt or in jail. Sometimes you may feel anger towards the survivor, especially if she did something you warned her not to do. If you find yourself blaming the survivor for the assault, make sure that you have someone other than the survivor who can listen to your feelings of anger. Remember, even if you feel that the survivor used poor judgment; it is the attacker who is responsible.