Carnegie Mellon University

Ways to Support

Some tips and strategies to help a friend who has been affected by sexual misconduct including sexual harassmentsexual assaultsexual exploitationdomestic and dating violence, and stalking.

  • Learn more about the types of sexual misconduct and resources available.
  •  Listen.
  •  Validate.
  • Tell them that what happened was not their fault.
  • Ask how you can help. Examples might include offering to walk them to Health Services or CaPS, or helping to contact the Office of Title IX Initiatives or University Police.
  • Respect your friend's privacy.  Only tell people who need to know in order to help your friend. 
  • Don't ask for details.  Accept what your friend feels comfortable telling you.
  • Don't try to "fix" everything.
  • Don't minimize the friend's experience; avoid saying things like "everything will be alright" or "it could have been worse."
  • Don't ask "why" questions, which might make your friend feel like they are being blamed for what happened.
  • Don't promise not to tell anyone.  You might need to tell someone to get your friend the help they need.
  • Consider contacting the Office of Title IX Initiatives for support, information, resources and referrals.  We can consult with you without knowing the person’s identity or on a “hypothetical basis.”
  • Be sure to take care of yourself.

How do I support someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct?

We encourage you to use more or less the same tips and strategies to support someone who has been accused of misconduct as someone who has been impacted by misconduct.   It is important to remember that very few people intentionally and maliciously go out of their way to harm other people (although, of course, it does happen).  From the perspective of the person who has been accused (“respondent”), it is very scary to be accused of harming another person, let alone to face a formal process and potential consequences.  In supporting a respondent, it is helpful to think through the universe of possibilities when it comes to a report, more specifically that the respondent:

  • Did something wrong, intentionally, and knows it;
  • Did something wrong, unintentionally, and knows it;
  • Did something wrong, unintentionally, and does not know it;
  • Different interpretations/perceptions of similar fact set by parties;
  • Did not do anything wrong/violate University policy, though complainant acting in good faith;
  • Did not do anything wrong/violate University policy, and complainant acting maliciously (“process abuse”); or
  • Mutual abuse (two wrongs don’t make a right, but this means the person you’re dealing with is both a complainant and a respondent).

The golden rule (treating another person as you would like to be treated) is always a good place to start, and, as the Dalai Lama recognized: “compassion is the radicalism of our time.”  Moreover, research has consistently demonstrated that isolation and ostracism can lead to negative effects.

As noted above, please be sure to take care of yourself.

What should I do if I am close with both of the parties?

This is a very challenging, and unfortunately in our work, not an uncommon place to be.  Start by taking good care of yourself.  We recommend reading the answers to the questions above: “How do I support someone who has been impacted by sexual misconduct?” and “How do I support someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct?” Think carefully about what role(s) you can play for either or both of the parties.   If you feel comfortable doing so, try to find out how each person feels about you remaining in touch with the other.  Maintain good boundaries, and again, be sure to take good care of yourself.