How to Support a Survivor

If someone you know has experienced sexual violence, dating/domestic violence, or stalking, here are some ways you can help:

Do:

  • Ask them how you can best help them
  • Tell them you are glad they felt comfortable coming to you.
  • Practice active listening. (This means giving them your undivided attention and listening in a non-judgmental and neutral way)
  • Ask if they feel safe. If they say no, ask if there is anything you can do to help them feel safer.
  • Tell them you believe them and that what happened is not their fault.
  • Ask if they would like to know their options or what they would like the next steps to be.
  • Mirror their language. Use the terms and pronouns they are using.
  • Validate what they are feeling (Self-blame is very common among people who have experienced violence. This is one feeling that should not be validated)
  • Respect their privacy
  • Check in. (Ask if you can check in to see how they are doing and specify a timeframe)
  • Get support for yourself too. 

Don't:

  • Minimize what happened.
  • Press them for details.
  • Question the validity of their account. (i.e. “Are you sure...?”)
  • Make excuses for the assailant (e.g. saying they don’t “seem like the type”; unfortunately, sexual violence can be perpetrated by anyone)
  • Confront the assailant.
  • Share their story without their permission. (except with a confidential third-party, like a psychologist or a counselor)
  • Label their experience. (if they are not calling what happened “rape” or “sexual assault”, then neither should you)
  • Interrupt them or multi-task while they are sharing/ Talking about these experiences can be very difficult, and interruptions or distractions can discourage people from sharing or make them feel ignored.
  • Tell them what to do. Instead, lay out the options in a neutral way and support them no matter what they choose to do.
  • Expect them to react a certain way or on a certain schedule.

Your support can have a very meaningful and positive impact in their recovery process. Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

  • The person who is sharing their experince with you has taken a risk by telling you something that is very personal and may be very painful. Respect the courage they are showing by giving them your full and undivided attention.
  • Accept that you cannot fully understand what they have experienced, and that’s OK! You do no know more about what a person is going through than they do. Remember that what they experienced is complex and so are their feelings about it.
  • There is no “right” or “wrong” way to react.
  • There is no time limit. Whether it happened yesterday or 10 years ago, they are still entitled to feel however they feel! Healing takes time and looks different for everyone.

*Please contact CARE at (831) 502-2273 or at care@ucsc.edu for questions, concerns, or more information.