Supporting Survivors

Someone you know has reported assault to you—now what? How the first person responds to a report of rape or sexual assault can have lasting effects on the well-being and recovery process of a victim. It is normal to feel shocked, confused, or angry about someone you know being assaulted, but the most important thing you can do is to be present with them--remain calm, believe the victim, and make sure to help them feel in control. The following tips are from NSVRC's Friend's and Family Guide.

  • Remain Calm. You may feel shocked or outraged but expressing these emotions to the victim may cause confusion or discomfort.

  • Believe the victim. Make it clear that you believe the assault happened and that the assault is not her or his fault. ​​

  • Give the victim control. Control was taken away during the assault. Empower the victim to make decisions about what steps to take next and try to avoid telling her or him what to do.

  • Be available for the victim to express a range of feelings: crying, screaming, being silent, etc. [these are normal responses to traumatic events] Remember, the victim is angry with the person who assaulted her or him and the situation, not with you. Just be there to listen.

  • Assure the victim of your support. She or he needs to know that regardless of what happened, your relationship will remain intact.

  • Avoid making threats against the suspect. Threats of harm may only cause the victim to worry about your safety and risk of arrest.

  • Maintain confidentiality. Let the victim decide who to tell about the assault.

  • Encourage counseling. Give the victim the hotline number for the nearest rape crisis center, but let the victim decide whether or not to call.

  • Ask before offering any physical support. Asking, “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the victim’s sense of security, safety, and control.

  • Say what you can guarantee. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as saying the victim will never be hurt again, or that the offender will be put in jail.

  • Allow the proper authorities to deal with the assault. Confronting the person who committed the sexual assault may be harmful or dangerous. Attempting to investigate or question others who may know about the assault may hamper a legal investigation. Leave this to the proper authorities.

  • Be patient and recognize that healing can take years with advances and setbacks.

  • Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings. 

Things to Say​

Please bear in mind that victims have had total control taken from them and they will be struggling to regain a sense of control. Offering ideas or suggestions is preferable over asking invasive questions or giving direct advice. It isn't necessary to come up with the "perfect words", but here are a few ideas:

  • You're on my mind, how are you?

  • How can I help you?

  • Can I do anything to make things better for you right now?

  • I'm glad you told me.

  • You didn't cause it, and you didn't deserve it.

  • I'll support you no matter what you decide to do.

  • What would you like to do next?

  • It's okay if you are at a loss for words.

  • There's no right or wrong way to do this. You're doing the very best you can.

What Not to Say​:

  • Don't use platitudes, like "time heals all wounds" or "life will go on."

  • Avoid minimizing their experience by telling them that it wasn't that bad, or at least they weren't physically hurt.

  • Don't ask them when they will get over it.

  • Try not to express your desire to hurt the rapist, even if you feel it.

  • Don't ask why they didn't report it or try to force them to report it if they are overwhelmed by the idea.

  • Avoid asking them why they didn't scream or fight.

  • Avoid asking if they were drinking.

  • Don't ask what they were wearing.

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