The following content has been adapted from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) -- the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.
It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, especially if they are a friend or family member. For a survivor, disclosing to someone they care about can be very difficult, so we encourage try to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible.
Sometimes support means providing resources, such as where to go for help, seek medical attention, or report to the University and Police, but often, listening is the best way to support a survivor.
Here are some specific phrases RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline staff recommend to be supportive through a survivor’s healing process.
“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their experience. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.
“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
Avoid sharing your own experiences with sexual violence as this can minimize a person's experience. It is important to remember that their experience is theirs and cannot be compared with other people.
Allow the survivor to decide how they will manage the next steps in their healing process. Some people want to report to University officials, but not the local law enforcement; others don't want to report to anyone. It is important to let the survivor decide how to proceed. If they ask for your advice, remind them it is their decision and try to remain neutral.
There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event to you, consider the following ways to show your continued support.
- Don't share. The person that experienced harm has a right to privacy and should be able to trust that you will not share details of what happened to them with friends or peers. You should only share this person's experience if you are a mandated reporter or you are concerned for their immediate safety.
- Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”
- Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
- Know your resources. You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health.
If you are concerned for the safety or well-being of a person, call Public Safety -- (740) 368-2222 -- or 911 to get them appropriate support from professionals.