If Someone You Know is Assaulted

As a bystander, it is important that you do what you can to prevent an attack from happening

Over the past few years, there has been more and more public discussion surrounding the subject of sexual assault on college campuses. According to a 2014 report by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, one in five college students experiences sexual assault during their college career, affecting people of any gender.

Here are some tips on how to be an engaged bystander:

  • When you witness sexual violence, get the support from other people around you, you do not have to act alone.
  • Practice with friends and family about what you would say and how you would say it.
  • When intervening, be respectful, direct, and honest.
  • Contact your local community- based sexual assault center to see if they offer any resources or training on bystander intervention. You can find your local program by contacting your state or territory sexual violence prevention coalition. See the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for coalition contact information.
  • If you see or hear something and you do not feel safe, call the police or go to the authorities.

You may find yourself in a position in which you need to help someone who has been sexually assaulted. If this happens, your first step should be to help the victim get to a safe location away from their assailant. Many victims blame themselves after an attack, so assure your friend that the assault was not their fault. It is important that the victim feels listened to and supported. Thank them for telling you, but try to avoid phrases that evoke powerlessness. This includes "I'm sorry."

If you witnessed the assault, take detailed notes regarding the incident as soon as it is safe to do so. Accompany your friend to the hospital and make sure that they are treated by medical professionals who specialize in sexual assault trauma. Your friend may not be in a mental state to advocate for themselves at this point, so it is important that you are able to do so.

Later, follow up with your friend. Encourage them to seek counseling or join support groups. Keep an eye on their emotional or physical status. Victims of sexual assault are at greater risk of mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, eating disorders, or suicidal ideations.