Supporting a Survivor

Remember that your loved one has just been through something traumatic. They may not react the way you expect. Some individuals may experience total numbness, crying, laughing, or a wide range of emotion. This is okay and normal. Their mind and body are reacting normally to an abnormal situation.

Below are some things to consider when supporting a survivor of sexual violence.

  • It is important that you believe what the survivor is telling you.   Over 92% of reports of sexual assault are true. Listen more and talk less. Allow silence.  Do not judge them in any aspect of their story.
  • Trauma impacts the way memories are stored and recalled.  Often survivors cannot remember details clearly.  Their stories may have gaps, holes, or inconsistencies.
  • Some helpful language to use would be:
    • “I’m sorry that this happened to you.”
    • “I believe you.”
    • “I’m glad you trusted me with that.”
  • It is important to affirm that whatever the survivor is feeling is normal and that the assault was not their fault.
  • Some helpful language to use would be:
    • “This is not your fault.”
    • “Of course you are feeling (echo the language of the survivor).”
    • “Everything you are feeling right now is normal, and okay.”
    • “I hear you saying . . .”
  • Actively listen to the survivor. Look for non-verbal cues and body language. Respect their boundaries and ask for permission to touch them before you try to comfort them physically.
  • The survivor has just gone through an ordeal where they had no control, so try to give them as much control over the situation as possible. Give them choices and let them make decisions.  Do not tell them what they “have to do.” Instead, present the options they have in front of them and let them choose how to proceed, including allowing them to do nothing at the moment.
  • Some helpful language to use would be:
    • “I’m here for you.”
    • “Support is available.”
  • Assist the survivor with finding out about all of their reporting options and support resources, both on and off campus.
  • If someone is disclosing an assault to you, listen to them. It is likely they are simply trying to process what they have experienced and are not looking towards the future yet. Do not try to problem solve. Listen to them, allow them to process.
  • Some helpful language to use would be:
    • “What would you like to see happen next?”
    • “Help me understand what is going on for you at this time.”
    • “How can I help?”