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What to do if…

You’re worried about a friend being sexually harmed

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Looking out for a friend who has been sexually harmed can be really tricky, and it might make you feel worried or anxious.

They might have told you about a harmful experience they’ve had, or you might notice something yourself that makes you concerned. 

  • Perhaps your friend has experienced sexual abuse in the past. Or perhaps it’s still happening to them. 
  • Or maybe they’ve been pressured into sexual behaviour by a sexual partner.
  • Or they might have been groomed.

These things can happen either online or offline.

Knowing that you’re there to support them will help your friend feel less alone and frightened. 

But it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for fixing the problem. It’s really easy to feel like you are the only person who can help them, but this isn’t true. There are lots of different ways they can get support.

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Common questions

How do I know if my friend is being sexually harmed?

Let’s think about how you would know if your friend was being affected by harmful sexual behaviour. What kind of signs do you think you might see? How might their behaviour change?

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Does your friend seem different? Are they more upset, angry or distressed?
  • Have they become withdrawn, staying away from their friends or family?
  • Do they seem unusually worried or scared?
  • Has your friend told you that they’re scared of someone else?
  • Have you seen them behaving differently online? For example, they might have started using new apps or stopped using apps they used to like.
  • Have they developed any new friendships online? Are you worried about who these friends are and if they’re harming your friend? Does your friend have a new relationship that they’re being secretive about?
  • Have they started getting expensive gifts or new things that they wouldn’t usually have the money for?
  • Has your friend told you about any sexual abuse they’ve experienced?
  • Have they told you, or hinted, that someone is making them do sexual things they don’t want to do?

If you’ve noticed any of these things, it doesn’t automatically mean that your friend is being sexually harmed. But it does mean there’s a chance they’re being affected by harmful sexual behaviour.

What can I do to help?

It can be hard to know how to support a friend you are worried about. Here are some simple things you can do to help.

Talk to your friend

Ask how they are, let them know you’re worried about them and that you care. 

When you’re worried about someone, it can be really difficult to stay calm. But if you can, talk to them sensitively and let them know that you’re there for them and you’ll listen without judging.

Get help 

If you’re worried about your friend’s safety, it’s important that you speak out and find help for them as soon as you can. 

If you think your friend or someone else is in urgent danger you should call 999 straight away to speak to the police or ambulance service and get help. 

Or if you think they’re safe for now, but you’re worried about what could happen to them later, try talking to an adult you trust – perhaps a parent or teacher. 

You might have already promised to keep what your friend has told you a secret, but remember that their safety is more important.

Suggest to your friend that they talk to an adult they trust

This might be difficult for them, but it’s important they know they’re not alone and that people can help them. 

You could also tell them about Shore and suggest they use our email services to get support and advice. These services are anonymous – this means your friend doesn’t have to say who they are.  

They can also get help from Childline

Remember to look after yourself

Worrying about a friend can be really difficult. It can make you feel upset, anxious or overwhelmed. If you feel this way, do speak to an adult you trust about what’s going on and how you’re feeling. 

What should I avoid doing?

Supporting a friend through a difficult situation can be really hard. There are a few things you should try to avoid doing, in order to keep you and your friend safe.

Making contact with anyone your friend is worried about

Although it’s tempting to do this when you want to help, it could end up putting you at risk as well. It’s much safer if this is dealt with by a professional, like the police or a social worker. 

Keeping a secret for your friend

Sometimes friends ask us to keep a secret because they’re scared or embarrassed about what’s going on. But if you believe that your friend isn’t safe and needs help, it’s always okay to speak to an adult about your worries, even if you’ve already promised not to. 

The most important thing is to make sure your friend is safe and gets the right help. 

Arguing with your friend, or confronting them

Even though you may be frustrated by what they are doing, this could end up pushing them further away. 

Try to remember that your friend is going through something very difficult and may not be acting like they normally do. They might not realise the effect they are having on you and others around them. 

Bottling up your feelings

When a friend is going through something difficult it can be easy to think that their feelings are more important than our own. 

But your feelings are just as important, and it’s okay to ask for help. 

Are you struggling?

Our advisors can give you support and advice, and you don’t have to say who you are.

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