How to Support a Survivor



Anyone can be a survivor of interpersonal 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 interpersonal 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 interpersonal violence, it can be difficult to know how best to respond. This handout will help you prepare.

Supporting a Survivor

Ways to Support:

  • 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?"

  • Listen

    One of the greatest gifts you can give a friend or loved one is your ability to listen. Some survivors may want to talk more that 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 forms of interpersonal violence have aspaects of power and control. Even the smallest choice that is made by a survivor 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 or holding the hand of a friend or loved one may be a natural inclination, it is important to ask the survivor if that would comfort them or if that is something they want at this time. Physical initmacy after an assault may not be fine and may take time for the survivor to be comfortable with intimacy again. The right for the survivor to choose the type and timing of intimacy is integrate to their feeling of safety.

  • Don't Pressure For Details

    The only details that you need to hear are the ones that survivors are wanting to share.

  • Do Not Confront The Harmer

    It is normal to be angry at the person for hurting your friend or loved one. However, confronting this person could result in the offender escalating behavior (i.e., harassment, stalking) against your friend or loved one. Remember, it is their choice.

  • Protect the Privacy of the Survivor

    DU is a small campus and when someone experiences interpersonal violence they may feel like everyone knows what happened to them. It's important that you get consent from your friend before you talk to anyone about what they shared with you. It is not your story to share.

  • What Not to Say or Do

    Don't confront the person who caused the harm. 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. Any form of interpersonal violence is never the fault of the survivor. Don't say 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.