The last months have undoubtedly been challenging in many ways for everyone. From working from home to the closure of schools, being furloughed or social distancing yourself from your loved ones, the pandemic has impacted everyone. Our social interactions with friends are limited to video calls and exchanging messages on social media platforms, which simply cannot replace face-to-face interactions. The upcoming International Day of Friendship on 30th of July reminds us of the importance of friendship for our happiness and mental health and how much we miss our friends. But especially for children friendship plays an essential role, not only for their well-being, but also for their emotional and social development, their capacity for empathy, their communication skills and self-confidence. 
There are plenty of benefits that derive from friendships, such as stress reduction, encouragement to change unhealthy behaviours and most importantly support in difficult times. Especially for victims of abuse maintaining friendships plays a major role, not only because good friends look after us and recognise changes in our behaviour, such as sudden withdrawal or irritation, but also because they will always try to save us from dangerous situations. A study by Citizens Advice has shown that 48% of victims talked to friends and family members about the abuse, 14% engaged with the police and only 2% contacted special trained domestic abuse workers. These figures stress the importance of friends for victims in taking first actions against their perpetrators. Even though these numbers relate to adults, who tend to understand abusive relationships better than children might do, it is proven that supportive friendship groups will prevent children from being bullied and suffering abuse too.
Frontiers for Young Minds collected anonymous data from 1,058 students of whom 143 were victims of bullying and 915 were uninvolved. 58 of these 1,058 students were bullies and 1,000 uninvolved children, which shows that sometimes children can be both victims and bullies at the same time. However, the data also brought to light that victims of bullying are often less likely to have close friendships, experience less social support, e.g. the time spent with other children, regardless whether the bullying takes place face-to-face or online. As a conclusion, children that have close friendship groups or someone who supports and comforts them, feel less lonely, more included and are, ultimately, less likely to be bullied. Sadly, having friends does not prevent children from being bullied or abused on the whole, but they are an important support nevertheless, as they can help the victim to reach out for advice, step in for them, offer specific help and most importantly won’t blame the victim for it. Often friends sense that something is wrong and confront the victim, which can encourage them to speak up or help to understand what is happening to them.
In terms of reporting abuse, friends can support the victims in a myriad of ways. From simply listening to them and encouraging them in their actions to accompanying them to see a social worker or the police, having a friend that bolsters and protects them is very important for a young person suffering abuse. Furthermore, victims of abuse might not feel safe researching help at home or making phone calls, friends can take over these tasks, provide a safety plan, financial support and reach out for legal advice without endangering the person in need.
PROCHILD Project recognises the importance of friends when it comes to the
early detection and reporting cases of abuse or mistreatment, which is why it
focuses largely on educating children, young adults and professionals about the
different forms of abuse, their rights and how they can help themselves and
others if they suspect abuse. Raising awareness on violence and abuse, and
equipping professionals with the right skills to protect minors, in combination
with promoting early detection through family, friends and carers are vital in
order to create an environment where victims feel safe to speak up and get the
support they need to recover.
 Citizens Advice. 2015. “Link in the chain” https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/CitizensAdvice/Crime%20and%20Justice%20Publications/Linkinthechain.pdf