How To Respond To A Friend Who Opens Up About Sexual Harassment

Talking about having been sexually harassed is not an easy thing to do. There are way too many women, and men, who never open up about their experiences, and part of the reason why they choose to remain silent is because they are afraid of how people will react. Let's not deny that there are many unhelpful ways of responding to someone who talks about sexual harassment. It is important to understand that when someone decides to share their experience with you, they are taking a difficult step which requires strength and courage. When you respond with victim blaming and shaming, or urging them to not make a big deal, or supporting the perpetrator in any way, you end up pushing them two steps back in their journey of healing. You risk them shutting down completely, and stop making any effort to move on from what they have gone through. So, it is imperative that when a friend tells you that they have been sexually abused, you respond in a way that is helpful to them. Hopefully, these tips below will help you in the same:

DON'T:

1. Doubt them

It is human instinct to want to not believe that those you love may be going through something difficult. Denial is a go-to response to hardships, for many of us. So, your doubt may be coming from YOU not wanting to face the reality of their situation. But, to them, it can be extremely discouraging when the person they choose to open up to, doesn't believe them.

2. Shame and blame them

They really don't need to be told that they brought it on to themselves, after everything else they have gone through. They don't need to be made to feel bad about what happened TO them. They need your support. Saying, "You shouldn't have gone there / done this / done that," is NOT supportive.

3. Tell them it's not a big deal

It IS a big deal, and it SHOULD make them angry. It should make you angry. It should make everybody angry that sexual harassment happens at all!

4. Tell them to let it go

Trust us when we say that they are trying. They are trying so damn hard to forget and move on with their lives. But, understand that abuse leaves an emotional scar, and sometimes, that scar doesn't disappear. It becomes a part of you, and that's okay.

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DO:

1. Listen

Chances are, they have been looking for someone to lend them an ear, and hear their story. Talking about a traumatic event can in itself be therapeutic. So, when they talk, let them. Let them control the conversation.

2. Cut off from the perpetrator

Often, the perpetrator is someone known to the victim and their social circle. If this is the case, then show your support by cutting off from the abuser. This is the single most powerful way of communicating your support, without saying anything.

3. Keep it confidential

This should go without saying. But, unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of keeping such information to themselves. Understand that your friend has come to you because they want YOU to know. If they wanted somebody else to know, they would go to them. Or, they would ask you to disseminate the information. They should not have to tell you to keep it to yourself. This is sensitive information, and only they have the right to decide who is in on it.

4. Ask how you can help

Maybe they just want someone to hear them out. Maybe they need your help finding a good lawyer. Maybe they need you to tell their family or their partner because it is too difficult for them. You can't assume what a person needs. So, ask, and then do it for them. 

Picture Credits: Great Andhra
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