Someone I know has been accused of sexual misconduct. How can I support them?

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If someone you know is accused of sexual misconduct, you may have questions and may be struggling to understand what has happened. You may experience a range of emotions, such as helplessness, anger, confusion or betrayal. Your friend may turn to you for help and support, but you may be unsure how to respond to your friend or the situation. By providing information and/or emotional support to your friend, you are not condoning the alleged behavior. Here are some ways you can direct your friend through this experience:

  • Direct your friend to resources on campus with people who are available to talk with a student accused of sexual misconduct and can help those students 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. You might suggest your friend contact the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and the Student Assistance Center in the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • Recommend that your friend seek counseling to deal with the emotions that they may be experiencing. Students can access counseling through the Counseling Center and the Women's Resources Center on campus.
  • Educate yourself about sexual misconduct. This website can provide information to answer the questions you may have.
  • If you are able to do so, be available to listen in a non-judgmental manner. Your friend may not feel comfortable talking about their situation. You can let your friend know whether or not you are comfortable listening to them and how much you can support them.

Remember, helping your friend does not mean:

  • Approving of your friend's actions and/or choices. You can help your friend without making a judgment as to whether or not sexual misconduct occurred. It is not your role to determine what happened. That is the responsibility of the campus discipline process and/or the legal system.
  • Engaging in harassing or threatening behaviors toward other people involved in the situation. Not only is violence or retaliation not the answer to helping your friend, but such actions may constitute violations of the Sexual Misconduct Policy and could undermine campus disciplinary proceedings or judicial proceedings.

When close friends or loved ones are involved in emotionally difficult situations, it often hard to separate one's self from those situations. Talking to someone about your experiences may help you to deal with this particular situation. If you are a student, the Counseling Center and the Women's Resources Center are available to you. Remember that you cannot effectively support your friend without being mindful of your own health and well-being.

Portions of this page were adapted from the College of William & Mary Sexual Assault Resources and Education website (2007).