Positive support from you and loved ones make a large difference for survivors' safety, healing, and a sense of justice. Think about a time you disclosed something difficult and someone supported you. What did they do well? Below are some tips based on best support practices and survivors themselves.
1. Start by believing survivors
- Say "I believe you." This is one of the biggest fears of disclosing sexual assault.
2. Listen & support non-judgmentally
- Let them talk; don't interrupt
- Tell them "It's not your fault"; avoid "shoulds & coulds" like "You shouldn't have been drinking!"
- Avoid asking investigatory questions especially "why" questions as they can imply blame.
- Examples: "why were you...?" "what were you thinking?!"
- Validate their experience, actions and concerns.
- Example: "It's normal to freeze instead of screaming"
- Use reflective statements by identifying key feelings.
- Example: "It sounds like you're afraid"
3. Let them choose
- Sexual assault is a committed based on control and power. Therefore, give the control and power back to the survivor by letting them choose what they would or would not like to do.
- Provide systemic options (e.g., medical, legal, academic)
- Provide referrals including the nearest sexual assault victim assistance center
- Don't make promises that you cannot guarantee
- Example: "This person is not going to get away with this"
- Remind them that there is no "right" way or time frame to heal
- How you can help support them. They may not know and that's okay.
- Inquire about safety if applicable and appropriate
- If you believe your loved one is at high risk for attempting/completing suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911.
5. Take care of yourself
- Sexual assault impacts everyone including those indirectly impacted like yourself and other loved ones. You will have your own reaction and feelings, and that is okay. What happened to your loved one is not your fault. Recognize your limitations and reach out for support if you would like. RVAP supports anyone impacted by sexual violence including loved ones.