Support a Survivor

Confidential Support Resources

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University Policies

  1. Recognize your limitations and practice self-care

    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.

    • Reflect on your personal capacity. What time commitments do you have? Have you experienced sexual violence? Do you have a personal connection to the survivor or other persons involved? Are there other people or family who need your attention? It’s okay for you to recognize that you may have limited capacity.
    • Set limitations and boundaries. It’s okay to set limits on how, when, where, and what kind of support you will provide. This is a kindness to yourself and to those you support. Being caring but honest about the your own boundaries will allow the person you're supporting to make their own informed decisions about the type and kind of support they need. You are not letting anyone down by setting limitations and boundaries. You are reinforcing the importance of healthy relationships.
    • Recognize the need for professional support. This is both for you and the survivor. Just listening to stories of sexual violence is traumatizing in its own way. Professional counselors and support groups can help you process your own experiences. The person you're supporting will benefit from the support of knowledge and trained professionals who have specific experience working with this type of trauma.
    • Take time for self-care. You should identify an activity or two that helps you to address your physical, spiritual, and mental health needs. Allocate time to these activities daily even if only for a few minutes. It is important to recognize that your right to self-care.
  2. Listen with empathy and without judgment

    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.

  3. Give emotional support

    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:

    • Affirm that the person did the right thing by seeking support.
    • Let the person know that they need to set the pace.
    • Don’t press for more information than they are comfortable giving.
    • Please do not assume that touch will be comforting to a survivor. Ask the survivor before you hug them, hold their hand, etc.
    • Help them see that no one ever deserves to be assaulted, abused or harassed. Perpetrators, not victims, are responsible for assault, abuse and harassment.
    • Express that you realize this is a difficult thing to share and you appreciate the courage it takes to make the first step toward recovery.

    Things you can say:

    • "It is not your fault."
    • "I believe you."
    • "No one deserves to be abused (or assaulted)."
    • "Are you afraid?"
    • "I am concerned for your safety."
    • "I realize this is a difficult thing to share and appreciate the courage it takes to talk about it."
    • "How can I help?"

    Things not to say:

    • "How did you get yourself into this?"
    • "I would never let my partner treat me that way."
    • "All you have to do is call the police."
    • "Why were you there in the first place?"
    • "I'm going to kill the person who did this to you."

    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.

  4. Offer information and professional resources

    A survivor of sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking is faced with many decisions to make in dealing with their experience such as:

    • Whether to seek medical attention
    • Seek counseling or other emotional support
    • Tell family and/or significant others
    • Apply for a temporary order of protection
    • Make a report to university officials or make a criminal report to law enforcement

    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.