How To Support a Survivor
Has someone close to you experienced unwanted sexual contact or harassment? Please read this link for some advice on how to be a good listener, written by a UO-CESV member.
Here are specific ways you can support and help survivors through their journey toward healing and empowerment.
Be a friend:
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is be the best friend you can be. Your friend is feeling a lot of emotions right now, probably including loneliness and isolation.
- Ask how you can be helpful rather than giving unsolicited advice. Asking is another way to show your friend that you truly care about and respect them.
- Ask your friend how they want you to comfort them. Even if it is a hug or hand-holding, that might feel like another invasion of their body or space.
- Try not to ask questions and listen instead. They will share with you what they want to, and may not want to discuss details.
One of the first things you need to ensure is that your friend is safe from harm. You also need to ensure that they are not going to hurt her/himself or someone else.
• If you are worried about anybody’s safety you must get help, even if your friend doesn’t want you to tell anyone.
• Believe your friend: Statistics show that there is no reason to think that s/he is lying about having been abused. It might be very difficult for your friend to tell you their experience, so it is essential to their healing process that you believe them.
• Avoid judgmental comments or asking questions that blames them for their experience- this might hinder their healing process and cause them to believe that their experience was their own fault.
• Remember, no one asks to be abused. Those who assault/harass are the only ones to blame.
Whatever your friend is feeling or going through is valid. Validate what they tell you and the decisions they make.
More than almost anything, your friend needs your trust.
• Be sure not to blame your friend for suffering this abuse; believe and tell them that it wasn’t their fault.
• Maintaining your support of them and your confidentiality of their situation is extremely important.
• Remember, however, that confidentiality is not as important as your safety and your friend’s safety.
Know your resources:
Educating yourself about the on-campus and off-campus resources available to survivors of sexual violence or intimate partner violence is another helpful way to support your friend.
• If you are comfortable, present your friend with a variety of resources, support services, and options they can choose from. Find these resources at “Sexual Assault Resources and Support.”
• Let your friend make all the decisions: In having been sexually assaulted, you friend has had all his/her power taken away.
• You must let your friend make all her/his own decisions throughout their healing process,
• It is important that you only present options and resources and give your friend the power to make his/her own decisions.
Remain in control of your emotions/reactions/behavior:
It is important to be aware of your emotions/behavior when hearing your friend’s story.
• Refrain from saying “I’m sorry”: this might put your friend in the position of having to comfort you by saying “no, it’s okay.” Rape is a crime, and it is not okay.
• Refrain from trying to confront or hurt the person who hurt your friend. Your friend has already been through pain and violence- your reaction might only hurt more.
• Retaliation might also put your friend in the position of protecting/defending the person who has hurt them. This can hinder their healing process by creating more confusion, frustration, or feelings of self-blame.
Do not define the experience:
As part of helping and giving the survivor the ability to make his/her own decisions, it is important that s/he be allowed to define the experience.
• Do not label the experience “rape” or “abuse” before the survivor is willing and able to do so.
• Do not make assumptions about the gender of the person who assaulted your friend until your friend tells you. Sexual violence is just as painful and harmful whether your friend identifies as gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, or questioning.
• Remember yourself: It can be very difficult to hear stories about sexual violence. Throughout this process, pay attention to your own emotional, physical and mental health.
• Remember to take care of yourself, to find someone to talk to, and receive counseling if necessary. Any of the resources available to survivors are more than welcoming of friends/family as well.