Supporting someone who is supporting someone else through a difficult time can be confusing. The trauma did not directly happen to your child, but as a friend of someone who was assaulted, your child may need to discuss topics such as sexual assault, consent, and/or sexism, racism, and homophobia, amongst other topics. Your child may be angry about what happened to his/her friend, upset, confused, or a host of other emotions. There may be student activist groups on campus that your child wants to be involved in, and there may be frustrations about the administration’s response (or lack of). Your child may just be overwhelmed with trying to be a supportive friend and need to talk. There are some things you can do to be supportive to your child:
National Sexual Assault
Call your college hotline
Your child may need to talk or vent about things happening surrounding the assault, and may not feel safe doing so with other friends. Your child may also be confused about how to interact with the perpetrator, especially if the perpetrator was also a friend. Offering a listening ear can go a long way in helping your child relieve stress, and provides an opportunity for you to discuss topics that are important but may be more uncomfortable, such as consent.
Challenge your child to interrogate how s/he adheres to problematic beliefs about sexual assault.
There are many misconceptions about sexual assault that are reinforced by popular media. There are also media sites that are actively discussing and dismantling rape myths. If you hear your child saying things that sound like s/he is blaming the person who was assaulted, ask your child why s/he thinks that way and help him/her understand why, for example, the clothing his/her friend was wearing is not indicative of consent.
Talk to your child about self-care
Between classes, extracurricular activities, and trying to support a friend who was assaulted, your child may feel stretched a bit thin. Encourage your child to take some time to engage in relaxing activities. There may be free or low-cost activities on campus, such as free dance classes, yoga, arts/crafts activities, or dinner/game nights. There may also be a benefit to off-campus activities such as movies, art/food festivals and events, and running clubs. Your child may benefit from doing these alone or with friends. If you have the means to do so, you can contribute to your child’s self-care practices by sending a care package that s/he can share with his/her friend with some items they may enjoy together. Some examples are snacks, games, "spa day" items like nail polish and face masks, movie passes, or art supplies.
Your child may be frustrated that his/her friend is not taking certain steps (such as going to the police, reporting the assault, or seeing a therapist, for example). Encourage your child to be supportive of protective steps but also warn him/her against being too pushy. Remind your child that his/her friend needs to feel that others are respecting his/her right to make decisions. Your child may benefit from learning more about post-traumatic stress disorder and suggestions on how to be supportive.
Encourage your child to use online resources to learn more about sexual assault, victims’ rights, and the school’s sexual assault policies
Your child’s friend is legally entitled to protections under Title IX and the Clery Act, but may not know about the ways that s/he can receive services from the university. If your child is aware of this information, s/he can help his/her friend access needed services. You can learn more about legal protections here.
Learn more about sexual assault and how rape culture reinforces society’s acceptance of sexual violence.
With each new generation of young people, topics that were previously seen as taboo are brought to light. One of these topics is rape culture. Rape culture can be a complex subject to understand, partially because it is everywhere. Many of us say and do things that reinforce rape culture without even knowing that we are doing so. In short, rape culture is a culture that condones sexual violence and violence against women in both obvious and more subtle ways. Rape culture polices both men and women—men are told that in order to avoid being called homophobic slurs or insults or subject to violence themselves, they should dehumanize and act violently towards women and other men who do not act by a very rigid code of masculinity. For example, calling a boy an insult that implies that he is a woman or saying he "throws like a girl" are ways of telling a boy that he is not masculine enough, or that he acts too much like a woman. The implicit and explicit message is that women are inferior and that being and/or “acting” like a woman is a bad thing, and these messages, repeated over and over, foster the hatred and dehumanization of women in our society that allows rape to be celebrated and go unpunished. Among some groups of men, acting violently towards a woman, particularly in a sexual manner, becomes a way of asserting masculinity. Rape culture condones this kind of violence as the status quo, encourages men to perpetuate it, and for women and men not labeled as ‘masculine’ to accept it as normal. It is normalized through forms of consumable culture such as media, music, and movies; tied to homophobia and racism; and results in a society that fails to protect people’s rights.