Supporting someone who has endured sexual violence can be scary if you are not sure how to respond. Here are a few pointers:
- Listen: It’s not easy to open up about experiencing sexual or domestic violence. The simplest way to support a survivor is to listen. Give the survivor your undivided attention. Let the survivor share as much or as little as they like. Listen to what they need and what they ask for. Let the survivor finish speaking before reflecting on what has been said. Active listening is key to knowing how you can best support someone.
- Believe: Many survivors fear coming forward because of how others may react. If a survivor confides in you, believe them. Let them know what happened to them was not their fault. Saying “I believe you” is an easy yet powerful way to support a survivor.
- Support: Different people need different things to heal in the aftermath of an assault. It’s important to not assume what a survivor may want. Ask the survivor how you can support them. Support can take many forms: a shoulder to cry on, a cooked meal, assistance navigating next steps, etc. Sexual and domestic violence is a serious violation of someone’s agency. Supporting a survivor in whatever steps they decide to take lets them know they are in control.
- Blame Sexual and domestic violence is never the survivor’s fault. Don’t engage in victim blaming behaviors such as asking what someone was wearing, how much they were drinking, or what they did to fight back. Never use someone’s previous sexual history as evidence of consent. Remember that it is everyone’s responsibility to get consent, not to stop someone from assaulting them.
- Play detective Don’t respond to a survivor’s disclosure by saying everyone is innocent until proven guilty. You are not a police officer, lawyer, judge, or jury member. It’s not your job to determine whether someone is being honest about what they experienced. Don’t demand proof or question someone’s story after they’ve confided in you. Just like believing someone can make a world of difference, doubting survivors can leave them wishing they had never said anything in the first place.
- Take charge: You are in the passenger seat. Avoid telling the survivor how they should feel or what steps they should take next. Regardless of what you think you would do in their situation, the survivor knows what is best for them and should be treated as such.
- Violate trust: A survivor is trusting you when they choose to disclose. Even if someone doesn’t specifically ask for confidentiality, don’t violate the survivor’s trust by sharing their story with others. Never report someone’s experience with violence to any authority without explicit consent from the survivor.
Faith Ferber, Student Engagement Organizer, Know Your IX, [email protected]