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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Letter to the editor: How to support a friend who experiences sexual assault

Sexual violence has been a high-profile issue on campus and across the nation for the past several months. This visibility has come along with some positive changes for Grinnell. Many student survivors are speaking out and finding support. This semester has seen a number of productive events including “It Happened Here,” hosted by Advocates, a sexual violence teach-in by Dissenting Voices and the upcoming screening of “The Hunting Ground” next Thursday and Friday. And after pressure from student activists, the College released an email to the student body clarifying students’ rights and explaining new changes to the College’s Title IX policy.

This increase in awareness has also come with an increase in student questions. As a student organizer, one question that I am asked on a regular basis is, “How do I support a friend who has experienced a trauma or assault?” To everyone’s frustration, there is no easy answer to the question. But you do have options, and you have the opportunity to help. When a friend tells you they have been sexually assaulted, here are some things you can do:

First of all, believe them.

Secondly, let the survivor make their own decisions about what to do next. You can encourage your friend to consider all of their options, but never pressure a survivor into any particular course of action. Know that trauma involves a loss of autonomy and control. As a friend and ally, you can help the survivor regain a sense of control over their own life simply by listening to their needs and respecting their judgment.

At the same time, you can still offer to connect the survivor to resources. Make sure your friend knows that regardless of whether or not they pursue conduct charges, they have the right to seek accommodations from the College under Title IX. The survivor might find it helpful or necessary to switch dorm rooms, implement classroom accommodations, or work with the school’s Title IX office to make other changes. All students have the right to bring a support person such as a friend or a lawyer with them to any Title IX meeting. You can volunteer to be that person. You can also help your friend find someone else, such as a lawyer or a trusted member of college staff.

Your friend may also find it helpful to seek short-term or long-term counselling. Offer to call the offices of therapists in town and ask about their specialty, availability and insurance policy. Offer your help in reaching out to on-campus resources such as Advocates, the Chaplain’s office, the Ombuds office or SHACS. There are also off-campus resources, such as Crisis Intervention Services (CIS) and Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP). CIS provides confidential and free support for survivors, including legal advocacy and short-term counselling. RVAP also provides confidential, free and trauma-informed support for survivors.

You and your friend may find that the most helpful thing you can do is to offer practical follow-up and support. Many survivors find it helpful to have a friend accompany them to meetings with administrators or appointments with a doctor or a therapist. You can schedule check-ins for days that are especially stressful. Small gestures can also be important; offering up your couch during a tough night can mean the world.

Finally, be sure to take care of yourself. If a friend of yours is experiencing trauma, it can feel like the end of the world. This is not the fault of the survivor, but it is a fundamental aspect of trauma. Trauma is cyclical, and it can have a ripple effect throughout entire communities. Know that there are resources here to support you, too.

Resources for survivors and friends:

Crisis Intervention Services: 1-800-270-1620 (24/7)

Rape Victim Advocacy Program

Business line: (319) 335-6001

Crisis line: (319) 335-6000

Grinnell Advocates: (641) 260-1615 call or text (24/7)

Chaplain’s Office: (641) 269-4981

Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice (CRSSJ), 1233 Park Street

(Monday-Friday 8am-5pm)

SHACS: (641) 269-3230

Lower level of Forum, 1119 6th Avenue (Monday-Friday 8am-5pm)

Protocol: After hours mental health services, call the SHACS main line and listen to the instructions.

Devyn Shea ’16

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