Incident Disclosure: How to Help a Friend

These tips below should be used when a friend personally discloses their experience to you. DO NOT use this resource to respond to an immediate threat.

If you require emergency assistance, please call Geneseo University Police at 585-245-5222 or 911.

What to Do If a Friend Discloses an Incident to You

1. Listen

  • Make them feel heard and let them know that you believe them.
  • Provide a private, comfortable space for them to express their emotions and tell their story.
  • Don’t ask too many questions, especially those that imply fault (i.e. “What were you wearing?” or “why did you drink so much?” or “why would you go there?”). 
  • Avoid investigating or probing for more information and allow them to share what they’re comfortable with.

2. Validate

  • Using trauma informed language, let them know that what happened to them was NOT their fault. Any form of sexual harassment is not normal and should not be excused for any reason.
  • Use phrases that acknowledge the pain they are experiencing like, “I am so sorry this has happened to you,” “I believe you,” and “what can I do to help you?” 
  • Remind and reassure them that you are here to support them through their entire healing process.

3. Connect Them to Resources 

  • Be familiar with the on campus and off campus resources and offer to accompany them when seeking support:  
    • Title IX
    • RESTORE Sexual Assault Services
    • Chances and Changes Domestic Violence Program 
    • Lauderdale Health and Counseling Center 
    • University Police Department 
  • Respect their choice to report or not report  

Understanding Trauma 

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, stalking, and domestic or dating violence can be extremely traumatic and trigger emotional responses that may seem irrational or drastic. Under the circumstances, however, these behaviors are completely normal. This can be confusing both for you and for the survivor, so being trauma informed can help you be prepared and know what to expect during their healing process. Some signs to look out for when someone is experiencing the effects of trauma are: 

  • Isolating themselves 
  • Depression/anxiety 
  • Anger 
  • Shame, guilt, or self-blame 
  • Denial 
  • Shock 
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss or memory confusion
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Emotional numbness
  • Irritability
  • Flashbacks and nightmares

The healing process is different for everyone. It may take a long time for a survivor to come to terms with what happened to them and be willing to reach out for support. In order for you to best support your friend, be patient and recognize that the pain they are feeling may be impacting their choices and behaviors so that they can feel a sense of normalcy. Although you may want them to seek help, let them set the pace for their process and be there for support whenever they are ready.