Individual reactions to the trauma of sexual assault vary greatly. Some may break down while others may take extra care to make everything appear normal.

As a friend of a survivor, it can be difficult for you to know how to react to these varied responses. Here are some strategies:

Believe your friend. Remember that it's very difficult for a survivor to come forward and share their story and your reaction may impact their choice to seek further support. Tell your friend that you believe him/her and you want to support him/her in any way that you can.

Respect privacy and confidentiality. Do not share your friend's story with others unless you have that person's permission to do so.

Listen. It is natural when listening to a story to want to ask questions and get details about what happened. In this situation however, it is best to allow the survivor to control what and how much they would like to tell you about the incident. Listen actively and non-judgmentally. Reiterate that you are there to listen and support and allow the survivor to dictate when and how much they wish to say.

Assure your friend that it is not his or her fault. Self-blame is common among victims of sexual violence. It is important that, as a friend, you help the survivor understand that no matter what happened, it was not his/her fault.

Allow your friend to control next steps. It is natural to want to try to fix the problem but know that healing from this event will take a great deal of time and your friend must maintain the ability to choose how s/he wishes to go about that healing process. You may provide advice, guidance and information about options for additional support, but allow your friend to decide if, when and how s/he will pursue those resources. If your friend is hesitant to get help from any outside sources, even those that you know are supportive and helpful, offer to go with her/him. Sometimes that is all it takes to help a friend begin to take action.

Don't forget to support yourself. Supporting a friend through a trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role as well. Recognize this and don't hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it. You cannot effectively support your friend without being mindful of your own health and wellbeing.