Written by Sam Thomson, Engagement and Outreach Officer, SurvivorsUK
This blog originally appeared here
You’ve liked their Insta’s, seconds after being posted.
You’ve held their hair back whilst juggling a slice of bread and a mug of water.
You’ve told them sliders and socks are a no-go.
All things considered, you’re a pretty awesome and supportive friend. You are there for them through thick and thin, with tools to get you both through whatever life throws at you.
But what happens when you can’t fix the situation? What happens if your friend tells you that they have been sexually assaulted?
Well Builders, grab your high-vis and hop in. Today you’re going to learn the tools you need to help your friend through rape and sexual assault.
The Cement Mixer
Like the cement mixer, you will be processing some extremely heavy material given to you from your supplier.
Now, a good builder knows to not force material into the mixer before the supplier can provide it. A good builder also knows to not insert material into a mixer before it is turned on and ready to process it.
In this construction site, the ability to listen and let your friend provide information at their own pace can be one of the most useful tools in your inventory. Whilst they are providing material, registering what your friend is saying and how they are feeling can truly build them up, solidifying you as an excellent support system. Sometimes, being able to just sit down and listen can be even more supportive than that of cement.
As humans, we are always looking to process more information, so do not feel bad for wanting to ask questions! First, let your cement mixer churn and process what has been given. Make sure that your supplier has given you all of the necessary material and is happy with the quality of their delivery. Then, if the situation is appropriate and your supplier is comfortable, ask them these questions, but make sure that you respect their answer afterwards.
The Unlimited Tape Measure
Unlimited. A word we wish we could apply to a lot of things in this world. Unlimited data. Unlimited annual leave. Unlimited secret use of your friends’ Netflix account, perhaps? Well, what about unlimited time?
Being patient and giving someone as much time as they need to process the situation for themselves in their own cement mixer can be incredibly helpful. Many individuals may find it difficult to trust someone after what has happened, especially if they haven’t felt believed in the past. But your friend has trusted and confided in you, probably because of how awesome you are to them. Repay your friends’ trust with unlimited measures of patience and respect, not pushing them to act on anything that they do not feel comfortable with or answering any questions they do not wish to.
If your friend happens to be something more than “just friends”, they may find intimacy difficult. Sometimes they may not want physical closeness, sometimes they may want extra physical contact. Try to remember this is not a reflection on you or your relationship, Builder. Pack an unlimited tape measure to give them infinite levels of reassurance, respect and patience, then you are on the road to offering some extremely supportive foundations for your friend.
A builder knows their trade. They know how to get the job done, with a precision unmatched by mere mortals. Yet, with all of this skill, sometimes a builder knows that they are not in control of the grand design.
Brick by brick, you help the architect bring their blueprint to life. The architect has enlisted you due to your talents, skill and excellent track record to support them through this venture. Although you may have brilliant ideas about the best place to start building your friend up, such as who to talk to and where to go, what can truly help here is letting them stay in control. It is up to the architect how they want to structure their actions and build on from your support.
Even if you don’t agree with the design, even if you think you would place some bricks before others. Let your friend stay in charge, helping them build where and when they decide.
A cluttered site will never be efficient for construction. Although mess is an inevitable part of construction, too much mess can become dangerous and can even prevent the building process. Similarly, too many negative emotions can prevent your friend from building on the amazing support you have been providing, and that is why we bring in the skip.
You can help chuck out some of the negative feelings commonly encountered by survivors of sexual assault.
Remind your friend of how brave and courageous they are for coming forward and disclosing their experience to you. Help them throw their feelings of shame and cowardice away.
Believe your friend, never suggesting whether the event actually happened. Help them throw away feelings of doubt.
Lastly, alleviate the blame your friend may feel, potentially due to how their disclosure was previously received. Help throw away those destructive points of view.
Helping a friend demolish and dispose can be the most effective way to build up.
The Safety Helmet
Last, but certainly not least – your safety helmet. No builder, no matter how strong, brave, nor experienced, should ever enter the construction site without one.
You may be encountering topics that can become overwhelming and upsetting, but you want to help your friend urgently with all of your new tools! Yet, the best way to help your friend is to realise where your own limits are. Supporting your friend can be difficult, and it is OK to sometimes leave the construction site for your own mental health.
Pace yourself during this process, a builder can only help so much.
Remember that you cannot fix this situation, as your friend is not broken, but you can help them build.
Builders, I would like to end this blog by reminding you of how strong you are for helping your friend. Often, we want to help those we care for at the expense of our own tools. I urge that if you realise this is happening, you seek out support for yourself. Below, I have linked some further information that may be able assist you through this process as well as provide additional support services, but please do not hesitate to get in touch with me as well.
Builders, I shall see you on site!
Until next time.