Sexual violence has a significant impact on the wellbeing of the survivor and on those who provide care and support. Professionals in the field take steps to care for their wellbeing and have been trained to recognize their limitations and boundaries. As a person who cares about a survivor, it’s important to acknowledge your capacity and the limitations of your knowledge. Even if you have experience or training in this area, having a personal relationship with a survivor will have a different emotional impact. Here are some tips to help you navigate your self-care while providing support.
Listening with empathy and without judgment establishes feelings of trust and safety. Take the assault seriously and give the survivor every consideration you would for anyone facing a serious life trauma.
Each person will react to an assault, abuse or harassment in their own way. You can tell them that although the experience was traumatic, recovery and healing are possible; help is available and can make a difference.
Listening is not: Interrupting, yelling, injecting your feelings, changing the subject, making light of the situation, etc.
You should begin from a position of believing the survivor. You may be the first person that they've told and consider how vulnerable it may make them feel to even tell you. Allow the survivor to choose what information they wish to share with you and at what pace. It's also important to recognize the degree to which you are comfortable receiving this information.
Sharing a story can be traumatic for some survivors. You may want to let them know that trained confidential professionals are available 24/7 through various Confidential Resources.
Here are some other tips:
Things you can say:
Things not to say:
Another Note: If you have personal experiences that might interfere with your response to this person, it would be better if you expressed your thanks for their trust in you but let them know that you need to get someone else to help them. Please honor your boundaries while making sure the survivor receives appropriate assistance.
A survivor of sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking is faced with many decisions to make in dealing with their experience such as:
Seeking assistance from any resource must always be the survivors’ choice. There is no one “right” way for a person to respond after they have been assaulted.