How to help a friend accused of sexual assault
Throughout life, we make solid friendships with those who are always there for us – always loyal, honest and trustworthy. But what happens when a friend gets in trouble? How can you help a friend who’s been accused of a crime they say they didn’t commit?
When it comes to campus sexual assault, allegations can drive a wedge between friends and end relationships, says Andrew T. Miltenberg, an attorney specialized in campus assault due process. Still, there are ways to help a friend avoid a sticky situation before it’s allowed to escalate.
The only person responsible for sexual assault is the assailant. However, you have the ability to look out for the safety of others, and it’s the right thing to do.
Perhaps you have the opportunity to suggest more responsible consumption of alcohol and keep your friends from overindulging and making mistakes that have serious consequences.
Suppose, for instance, you’re at a party and your friend has had one too many drinks. You’re ready to go home, but your friend is still chatting with a girl he just met. Instead of leaving him behind, offer to drive him back to his dorm. (If you’ve both had too much to drink, call an Uber or a taxi.)
By confronting someone who is engaging in risky or threatening behavior, you can help avoid potentially dangerous situations. As Miltenberg puts it, “even one sexual assault is too much.”
Nevertheless, friends can’t keep an eye on each other 24/7. And in the event that your friend comes to you one day for help after being accused of sexual assault, you need to know how to appropriately respond.
Sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and sexual harassment are all potentially violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Under Title IX, any type of sexual assault or harassment is said to deprive equal and free access to an education and must be investigated thoroughly by the school.
When a friend is alleged to have violated Title IX by committing sexual assault, it can be difficult to know just how you should respond. This can be especially hard when the accusation is levied against a friend by another friend or acquaintance.
Most times, it will be your friend’s word against the accuser’s. According to Miltenberg, sexual assault allegations rarely include an eyewitness, a rape kit or hospital report, and allegations can be made months, and in some cases, years later.
Instead of passing judgment, try to listen to your friend in a compassionate manner. Odds are that he or she is looking for help or support. And remember, just because your friend opened up to you doesn’t mean that you condone the alleged actions.
After taking the time to listen, direct your friend to resources that can help, including counseling. You should also encourage him or her to hire an attorney like Miltenberg who specializes in campus sexual assault defense. A lawyer can help prepare your friend for the investigation and administrative hearing, giving him or her the best chance at being found not responsible for the alleged behavior.
While helping your friend, it’s also important to get help for yourself. It’s normal to have feelings of anger, confusion, betrayal or helplessness. Your institution may even provide free counseling to guide you through this emotionally draining experience, so you can continue being there for your friend during this difficult time.
Andrew T. Miltenberg of Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP is a veteran trial lawyer and national leader in due process for students accused of campus assault. He successfully defends students at university disciplinary hearings across the country. Contact him today at 212-736-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential consultation.