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The Shadow Pandemic: Helping Your Friends

Trigger warning: This article contains language about domestic violence and may not be suitable for all readers. 

Last week, in part one of this three-part series, we learned about what the shadow pandemic is and the threat surrounding it. For those of you who missed that article, the shadow pandemic is a term that refers to the intensification of violence against women amidst stay-at-home orders. 

As collegiate women, the statistics pertaining interpersonal violence are alarming, to say the least. 1 in 4 female college students experience sexual assault in their college years, and women ages 16 to 24 suffer from domestic violence at the highest rates. The numbers reflect that simply being a young woman puts you at risk. And this doesn’t even consider the rising rates of domestic violence during the shadow pandemic. Amidst this crisis, it’s easy to feel powerless in the fight against domestic violence and sexual assault. However, that is not the case. Being educated on helping people you know who are experiencing these very real issues is one of your biggest tools in going beyond being a bystander. So, here are some tips for if someone comes forward to you about experiences with domestic violence or sexual assault:

Listen and believe

The most important thing you can do for survivors is listen and believe. It takes a lot to come forward to someone and share these experiences with them, so be sure to thank them for trusting you enough to share such personal experiences. Try not to ask too many questions, as it will make them feel invalidated even if it’s not what you meant. Let them know that they did not deserve what happened to them. Also, try not to get angry. It is really hard to see someone you love go through something so traumatizing, so it is natural to be upset, but this is not your space to grieve. Your campus may have resources for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors like the UA Women and Gender Resource Center, which provides free and confidential counseling to friends and family of survivors, called “secondary survivors” so you can have space to process. Overall, the best thing you can do is just to be there for your friend and give them the support they need and space to heal.

Help them understand available resources

On campus, we have amazing resources. At the University of Alabama, we have the Women and Gender Resource Center (WGRC) which provides advocacy services as well as free and confidential counseling. The SAFE Center is another amazing resource in Tuscaloosa that is a free-standing medical clinic that provides medical care and forensic exams to people who have experienced sexual assault. Both the WGRC and the SAFE Center provide compassionate care to survivors and are a helping hand in healing. We also have the Title IX office, which can be triggering because of invasive questioning, but is a legal resource that can help survivors get restraining orders, change their class schedules, and is the path to go through if a survivor wants to open an investigation on sexual misconduct. The WGRC advocates can help survivors use this resource, so it can be helpful to go call the WGRC first. Understanding these resources is really important because you never know when you or your friends may need to utilize them. Be sure to let your friend know about what their options are so they don’t have to go through this alone.

Support the decisions they choose to make

Lastly, it is so important to support whatever decision your friend decides to make. They may not do what you would’ve done in this situation, and that’s okay. Healing is not a one-size-fits-all process, so this is their time to make the decision that is best for them. Being there for them and supporting them through the process is your job. This is a very difficult and touchy subject, but if we are good friends to those around us, it can make a world of difference.

UA Resources:

WGRC phone number: call (205) 348-5040 from 8am-5pm whenever the University is open.

You can also call UAPD at (205) 348-5454 and ask to speak to a WGRC victim advocate who is on call 24/7, even on weekends and holidays.

SAFE Center phone number: (205) 860-7233

Other Resources: 

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Chat live: www.thehotline.org

Rachel is studying political science, marketing, and public policy at the University of Alabama, pursuing a career in civil rights law and politics. When she's not busy with school and writing, she advocates for survivors of interpersonal violence through work at the Women and Gender Resource Center and her nonprofit, End The Silence. In her free time, she runs, spends time outdoors, and watches bad tv.
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