How to Support a Survivor of Sexual Assault

**Content Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.**


Unfortunately, sexual assault is all too common on college campuses. According to a recent study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in five women have experiences some form of sexual assault during their undergraduate years at college. With these odds, it is very likely that over the course of your college career, you will know someone who has been sexually assaulted. Lauren Lochotzki, Sexual Assault Advocate at New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter and Rape Crisis Center, offers her advice on how you can best support a friend who has been sexually assaulted.

HCK: What is your role as the Sexual Assault Advocate at New Directions?

Lochotzki: “As the Sexual Assault Advocate at New Directions there are, as with all victim advocates, many roles that I play. First and foremost, as a victim advocate, I am here to provide free services to victims and survivors of sexual assault, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment. I provide these victims/survivors with emotional support, medical and legal advocacy, and any referrals and resources they may need.

I also provide support to students at the local universities during Title IX investigations, etc. Another large component of being a support system to someone who has been sexually assaulted is accompanying him or her to the hospital if he or she decides to have a rape kit exam completed. New Directions has an advocate on-call 24/7 to respond to survivors’ needs.

I am also the facilitator of Knox County’s SART (Sexual Assault Response Team), which is a collaboration of different members of the community who work with victims/survivors of sexual assault. Our primary purpose is to work together as a team to provide victim-centered care.

Another role is that of co-facilitating sexual violence/domestic violence support groups with my colleague, Jackie. These groups are held twice a month on Wednesdays from 5-7 pm at New Directions; if anyone is interested, please call our hotline for more information. Additionally, I provide sexual assault education and awareness throughout the community. In the near future, I am hoping to provide sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention programs within the community and local universities.”

HCK: What prior experience did you have assisting survivors of sexual assault?

L: “My previous position was at The SAAFE Center, Wood County’s Rape Crisis Center, as a victim advocate/volunteer coordinator. I began as a volunteer and later joined as a staff person.”

HCK: Why did you become involved in this field?

L: “I became involved in this field through The SAAFE Center. I took a class in college at Bowling Green State University called “Women and Interpersonal Violence,” and within a service learning project through the local rape crisis center, I was able to learn about the field of victim advocacy, specifically sexual assault victim advocacy. Through that, as I stated previously, I became a volunteer and staff person at The SAAFE Center, where I had many opportunities to work with clients, spread awareness, and much more.”

HCK: How should I respond if a friend tells me that he/she was sexually assaulted?

L: “My advice in how you should respond if a friend tells you that he/she was sexually assaulted is to LISTEN and BELIEVE what they are saying. Be a positive support system for the friend. Offer to accompany him/her to the hospital if they decide to go. Let them know that what happened was NOT their fault.”

HCK: What should I not say?

L: “Refrain from asking too many questions, and refrain from victim blaming. It does not matter what your friend was wearing, what they had to drink, who they were with, and why. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.”

HCK: What should I do if my friend doesn't want to report his/her sexual assault?

L: “If a friend does not want to report their sexual assault, respect their decision. Sexual assault is the most underreported crime, and for many a good reason. There is a lot of backlash that comes along with reporting, whether that be loss of support from family/friends, no support from the community/school, your friend’s own personal safety reasons, etc. These are just a few examples as to why someone may not want to report. I think it is appropriate to gently remind your friend that if they do report, they may do it anonymously. Also, the statute of limitations in Ohio is 25 years, so if they ever change their mind on wanting to possibly prosecute later in life, a report will definitely help that decision.”

HCK: How can I continue to support my friend after this conversation?

L: “Supporting your friend after this conversation, or any conversation regarding their disclosure of sexual assault to you is very imperative. As I stated before, just listening to your friend and believing them and encouraging them to talk with myself or an SMA, counselor, etc., is helpful. Listen to what your friend is saying they need and be that support for them if you are able. Please remember also, to take care of yourself as the friend. The news of your friend being sexually assaulted is traumatic to you as well, and it is important for you to listen to your own needs and seek help for yourself. Everything at New Directions that is disclosed/discussed is confidential, and I or another advocate are always available to talk, listen, and be a support person to you as well.”

HCK: My friend isn't speaking to anyone about their assault, and I am concerned about their well-being. What should I do?

L: “If your friend is not speaking to anyone else about their sexual assault and you are concerned about their well-being, encourage them to talk to me, a sexual misconduct advisor, or a counselor. Remind them that what we discuss is confidential, and that sometimes talking with a third party person may be easier.”

HCK: Thank you so much for all your great advice. Do you have anything else to add?

L: “On a closing note, if you or a friend need any support or help or have any questions/concerns regarding a sexual assault, please do not hesitate to call New Directions any time at 740-397-HELP (4357). We have advocates available 24/7, and I am always willing to follow-up with anyone if I am not the one who receives the initial call. We are here for you!”



Image Credit: Know Your IX, AAUW, New York State Government, UWLAX

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