My friend has experienced unwanted sexual attention

Sometimes we may want to support a friend or family member who has experienced unwanted sexual attention. Here are ways to approach them and provide support.

 

 
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1. Check in on your friend and see if they're OK

Listen and validate what they say.
Ask them what they need, or ask if you can help in any way.

 

“Are you okay?”

“What’s up _____, you seem down? Hope you’re ok?
You know you can tell me anything.”

“Can I help you? Is there anything I can do to help?
 


 
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2. Once they’ve opened up a bit, here are ways to provide support:

 
  • “Where did this happen?” Did it happen somewhere with a person they don’t know very well? Or did this happen at home or school, with someone they know and see everyday? Are they safe now? 
     
  • Don’t blame your friend. If they have had unwanted sexual attention or abuse, it’s important that they know it’s not their fault – what happened to them is never their faultThe responsibility always lies with the offender.
     
  • Be patient. Don’t push your friend into anything they’re not sure about–unless they are unsafe and the abuse can happen again. It’s important for your friend to feel in control, so support them in their decisions. Don’t expect them to feel okay, even if a year has already passed. Give them space to heal at their own pace.
  • Encourage them to get support. Help him/her identify supportive people around them–who can help them in this situation? Sometimes talking to a support agency can be the most helpful. When they're ready, help them get support here.
     
  • Keep it private. Don’t tell others what happened, unless he/she wants you to. Respect their right to privacy. If you need to vent to someone about what happened, you can call any of these agencies anonymously to get support for yourself.

 

3. If your friend is safe...

...from the unwanted sexual attention happening again, here are some things you can say to support your friend.

Remember, words of support are always welcome, but be sincere with your support.

 
 
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  • “How can I help?”
  • “Is there anything I can do?”
  • “If you need company, I’m just here anytime.”
  • “If you need to vent, just let me know.”
  • “You don’t have to pretend things are OK”
  • “I can help set up an appointment with a counsellor, and I can go with you if you want?"
 

 

4. If your friend is not safe...

...and there’s a risk that they will experience sexual harm/abuse again, this may be a little more tricky.

Here’s how to help.

 
 
  • Talk to your friend about getting safe–can they stay with you till you can make a plan together? Offer to be with your friend if she has to tell an adult to get safe.
     
  • If your friend is too frightened to tell, or doesn’t think adults can help, you need to think about talking to someone else who can get your friend safe. Talk to your friend about this before you do anything.
     
  • Even if your friend said don’t tell anyone, the only time to break this promise is if they can be harmed again. If your friend is not safe and can be harmed again, this is the one exception to keeping your promise of confidentiality
  • Is there a trusted adult you can tell? The main aim is to get your friend to a safe place away from this happening again. A teacher, school counsellor, parents, siblings or any agency listed here.
     
  • It can take a few tries before someone listens. Keep trying. Help will always listen so call for support.  If this is happening on a regular basis and your friend is 16 or under, Child, Youth and Family (CYF) or the police can help. It’s important that your friend is away from where the abuse is happening.
 

 

II. How they might be feeling

Everybody who has had an unwanted sexual experience reacts and deals with it in their own way, but there are some common feelings young women describe.

 

Your friend may be going through some, or several of the following:

 
  • Not able to concentrate
  • Getting into arguments
  • Not wanting to be touched
  • Feeling like spewing
  • Not able to eat, or constantly wanting to eat
  • Not able to sleep, or wanting to escape into sleep all the time
  • Feeling bad about themselves, changing the way they dress, perhaps dressing in baggy clothes, or dressing to heighten their sexuality as this can feel like one way to make sense of the abuse
  • Feeling really down / depressed / sad
  • Crying a lot, maybe without knowing why, just at anything
  • Feeling really scared, scared to be alone, scared to be around people
  • Having nightmares
  • Having flashbacks, vivid memories of what happened, unable to control them
  • Feeling totally out of control, not knowing what's happening
  • Getting sick more often
  • Getting angry at others
  • Disbelieving, how could this happen
  • Wanting to forget completely what happened
  • Not wanting to talk about it
  • Taking drugs or alcohol to help numb out the pain
  • Cutting / burning self to make the hurt stop
  • Getting really drunk at parties
  • Being sexual with lots of different people

 

 

 

If your friend is going through any of the above, here are things you can suggest to help them with how they’re feeling:

 
 
  • Offer that they call you anytime they need someone to talk to.
     
  • Encourage them to spend time with more people they trust and feel safe with. Positive relationships help a lot with healing.
     
  • Encourage them to do more of the things they like – for example, having warm baths, listening to music, reading books, having hot milky milos. Encourage them to take a vacation from their troubles through one of the pleasant activities listed here or brainstorm some of your own.
  • Encourage them to get support. Help him/her identify supportive people around them, who can help them in this situation. Sometimes talking to a support agency can be the most helpful, when they’re ready, help your friend get support here.
     
  • Encourage them to visit Em. We have a lot of articles to help support them through this, as well as info on how to get support from different agencies.
     
  • Let them know that writing things down helps with recurring thoughts. They can decide to keep it, burn it or throw it away later. The important thing is they get their thoughts down so they don’t have to go over them all the time.