How to Support a Survivor
Anyone can be a survivor of gender violence, regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, size, strength, etc. Sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual desire.
When supporting a survivor of gender violence, remember that there is no right or wrong way to cope with the immediate aftermath of trauma. It is important to validate, believe, listen, provide choice, respect personal space, and protect privacy.
When a friend or loved one has experienced gender violence, it can be difficult to know how best to respond. This handout will help you prepare.Supporting a Survivor
Validate & Believe
Validate & Believe
Start by believing them and validating their feelings as normal.
"I am so sorry this happened to you and I am glad you felt comfortable coming to me. I believe you and I am here to support you however you would like me to."
"Everything that you've told me you're feeling is normal. What can I do to help?"
One of the greatest gifts you can give a friend is your ability to listen. Some survivors may want to talk more than others; let the person know that you are here for them if/when they are ready to talk. Provide space for them to choose what they share about their experience. Don't pressure for details.
"I'm here to listen whenever you are ready."
Allow Them to Make Their Own Choices
Sexual assault and other form of gender violence are about power and control. Even the smallest choices a survivor makes can begin to restore their sense of power.
"You can choose if and when we talk. It is up to you. I'm just here to listen."
"I don't know what is best for you, but can I share some resources that may help?"
Do Not Touch Them Without Asking Permission First
While hugging a friend or holding their hand may be a natural inclination, it is important to ask the survivor if that would comfort them or if they want that. Physical intimacy that may have been fine before the assault may not be fine for a while after the assault. The right for the survivor to choose the type and timing of physical intimacy is integral to their feeling of safety.
Don't Pressure For Details
You do not need to hear any details of the assault, unless the survivor wants to tell you.
Do Not Confront an Alleged Offender
While it is normal to be angry at the person accused of hurting your friend, confronting this person could result in the offender escalating behavior (e.g. harassment, stalking) against your friend.
Protect Your Friend's Privacy
DU is a small campus and when someone is sexually assaulted they may feel like everyone knows what happened to them. It's important that you get permission from your friend before you talk to anyone about what they have shared with you. Your friend has confided in you because your friend trusts you. It is not your story to share.
What Not to Say or Do
Don't confront the alleged offender. It is normal to be angry at the person; however, confronting the person could result in the offender escalating behavior or your actions could jeopardize a potential investigation.
Avoid implying blame. Sexual assault or other forms of gender violence are never the fault of the survivor. Don't as things like:
- "Why did you get that drunk?"
- "Why didn't you fight back?"
- "Are you sure you weren't leading them on?"
Don't pressure for details. You can be supportive without knowing every detail of the incident. Allow the survivor to share only what they are comfortable sharing.
Don't tell the survivor what they should do. Allow them to make their own choices.
Refrain from focusing on potential social impacts. The most important thing to consider is what is best for your friend, not how others might react.
Don't criticize their actions during or following the assault. Assure them that they did what they needed to get through the experience.
Don't question the validity of their experience. Don't say things like:
- "Are you sure it was rape?"
- "Maybe you misunderstood what was happening?"
Take Care of Yourself
When someone you care about is hurt, it is normal to feel angry, sad and powerless. As a friend or loved one, it is also common to experience many of the same reactions a survivor does. Processing your own feelings with the person who has been sexually assaulted can be overwhelming to them and may exacerbate how they are feeling. Consider getting your own support with how you are feeling about your friend's assault. CAPE and the Health and Counseling Center are two confidential resources on campus that are here to help.