Supporting a Friend Who's Caused Harm
How to healthily support someone who has been accused of sexual or relationship violence, stalking, sexual harassment, or other gender-based discrimination
If a friend or someone you know is accused of sexual or relationship violence, stalking, sexual harassment, or other gender-based discrimination, it is likely that you have questions and may be struggling to understand what has happened. You may be experiencing a range of emotions such as helplessness, anger, confusion, or betrayal. If your friend has told you that they have been accused of harming another person in these ways, they may be turning to you for help and support. You may be unsure how to respond to your friend or the situation.
- Direct your friend to resources. Staff in the Confidential Support Team (CST), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Graduate Life Office Deans (GLO Deans), the SHARE Title IX Office, and others are available to talk with a person who has been accused of harming another person. These professionals can help that person understand what may happen next. Helping your friend access these resources is a step you can take to provide support in what may be a confusing and emotional time for both of you.
- Recommend that your friend seek counseling to deal with the emotions. It may also be helpful for you to seek counseling to help you process any emotions and trauma you may be experiencing as a result of this situation. Counseling services are available through CST and CAPS.
- Get educated on the relevant issues. The information on this website can answer some of the questions you may have. If you are seeking additional information, please contact SHARE.
- Be available to listen in a non-judgmental manner. They may not feel comfortable talking about the matter, but let your friend know you will listen.
- Familiarize yourself with the relevant university policies.
If you think your friend or someone you know may be causing harm to their partner, it can be difficult to know what to do. Here are some suggestions to help you talk to your friend.
Approving of all your friend's actions and/or choices. You can help your friend without making a judgment as to whether or not they harmed another person. Determining if a crime or judicial violation took place is the responsibility of the legal system and/or campus administrators.
Taking action. Violence or retaliation is not the answer to helping your friend. Remember, harassing and threatening behaviors are not helpful and could undermine any court or student conduct proceeding taking place.
Where do I start? Consider using the suggested "50 First Words":
Thank you for sharing that with me. I can imagine this is really difficult. Stanford has resources to support you through this and help you understand your options and what might happen next. Would you like to speak to a confidential counselor or other professional staff? How can I help?
- What do you want to do?
- How do you feel about that?
- Tell me more about __________?
- What have you tried so far?
- What do they think about that?
- What does that mean to you?
- What do you think about that?
- What is it that bothers you about that? In what way?
- Do you want to _________?
- What would you like to see happen?
- What I'm hearing you say is _______.
- What is the best thing that could happen?
- What is the worst thing that could happen?
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Many of us want to hold our friend accountable for their actions and prevent them from causing harm again, but we sometimes take oppression-based actions (e.g. shame, punishment, violence) which can lead to more harm. Here are some resources that may helpful when establishing community accountability, transforming behaviors, and preventing harm:
How to hold your friend accountable: Watch "What Are Obstacles to Accountability?", which is an 11-min video that explores why taking accountability can be difficult, how White supremacy culture socializes us to rely on punishment as a response to harm-doing, and how we can reimagine accountability as an opportunity for growth and transformation instead of something that scares and isolates us.
- It's important that our communities establish clear boundaries and are transparent about what will happen to someone who has caused harm. Review the Build a Culture of Consent Starter Kit and work with your community to identify community boundaries.
- Learn about the Upstander Education Initiative, and sign your community up for a workshop so you can brainstorm community norms and learn how intervene in daily acts of harm and high-risk situations while considering identity and power.
Some questions to consider are:
- What are the goals with accountability (e.g. acknowledging harm, behavior change, shame)? What does accountability mean to the survivor? To your friend? To you? Explore more here: 6 Signs Your Call-Out Isn’t Actually About Accountability, by Maisha Z. Johnson
- What forms of accountability are you considering engaging in? Are they rooted in oppression such as punishment, shame, or even more violence? Explore more here: 10 Strategies for Cultivating Community Accountability, by Ann Russo
- What support do you need to hold your friend accountable and take care of yourself? Do you need talking points? Support from friends? Support from a Stanford office? Something else?
- What systems led to the harm taking place? Are there norms, policies or behaviors that need to change?