Supporting a friend who was sexually assaulted has been one of the hardest seasons of my life. I can remember the exact night that everything I loved and adored about my college campus was turned upside down and changed forever. It is hard putting the traumatic effects of sexual assault on paper. I remember going to the assemblies in the beginning of freshman year that educate the incoming students on sexual assault but nothing could prepare me for the heart wrenching reality of sexual assault.

Nothing could prepare me for the crying, panicked voice on the other end of the phone at 4am that sent my heart racing and my legs running as fast as possible to my friends door. Nothing can describe the helpless pain of watching my friend shake and cry while all I could do was offer a loving embrace. Nothing I said could change what happened and nothing I did was able to heal her. It was a season of darkness, of seeing a lively, happy, life-loving side of my friend fade. I watched her withdrawal and enter down a path of attempted distractions while “I’m fine” was the mask that she wore as the darkness continued to steal her light.

Things have begun to look up over the past few months. She has her light back and more than that, she has fight and strength. She has shown me what it means to be strong and to take a hold of life’s struggles and overpower them. Today, she is the strongest person I know.

Some advice I have for anyone who knows someone who is struggling with sexual assault would be to first of all, love them. Support them and love with everything you can. Allow them to talk to you without inputting your judgment. You may have advice but if they are not directly seeking your advice, don’t offer it. Let them talk, cry, tell their story or whatever they need to do. Offer words of encouragement and love but don’t tell them what they should do. A lot has happened to them and their mental health comes first and is more important than any legal steps. The time may come when they want your advice and when that time comes, offer gentle advice all the while letting them know that no matter what they choose to do, you will support them through it all. My greatest advice would be to just stand by your friend and tell them they are loved more times than they can count.