The decision to tell someone about an assault is difficult. Should a survivor choose to let you know about their experience, you may feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to say or do. It’s okay. You don’t have to have all of the answers to help.
1. Believe and support. It can be incredibly difficult for survivors to tell their stories. A survivor may share their story with you because they trust you and view you as a safe person. The most important thing you can do to honor this trust is to believe and support them. You don’t have to have all of the answers or know exactly what to say for them to know you care and support them. A few helpful phrases include:
- “I believe you.”
- “It’s not your fault”
- “Thank you for trusting me. I am here for you.”
- “You are not alone.”
2. Don’t judge or victim blame. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt and don’t judge. You may want to ask questions. Do you need to know to help keep them safe (i.e. do you feel safe in your room?) or do you just want to know? Avoid investigatory questions. Often times questions like “Why did you stay” “What were you wearing” or “Why didn’t you say anything” may feel harmless but they place the blame on the actions of the survivor and not the perpetrator. The only person who is to blame is the perpetrator.
3. Let survivors make their own choices. At its core, sexual violence is about power and control. Giving survivors the chance to decide for themselves who to tell, if they want to report to the university or police, next steps, etc. are important pieces of helping them take back power and control in their own lives. While you may not agree with all of the choices they make, provided they do not harm themselves or someone else, those choices are ultimately up to the survivor.
4. Ask how you can help. Ask what you can do to help or support them. Understand that they may not be sure. Knowing that you care and want to help can be comforting to survivors. When applicable, ask about safety.
5. Know your resources. Know about local community and university resources for survivors. Letting survivors know about resources can also show that there are others in the community that care and want to help. For a list of available resources, click here.
6. Check in and let them know you care. Just because the physical violence may be over does not mean the impact does not remain. Check in. Show that you understand healing does not happen overnight and you support the survivor long term.
7. Take care of yourself. Sexual violence impacts everyone including those close to survivors. Seeing someone you care about hurt can be overwhelming. It is okay to reach out for help.