How to help?
Many survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence feel alone and helpless. Many survivors never disclose their experiences, often due to fear of being blamed. This page has some tips and suggestions for being supportive when someone discloses any experience(s) of violence.
What to Do or Say
- Listen. Show active listening skills.
- “Thank you for sharing with me”
- “I’m so sorry that happened”
- Let them know that they are not to blame for the incident. You can say things such as “It’s not your fault“ or "you didn't deserve that to happen to you"
- “I believe you“
- “How you are feeling is normal“
- “You’re not alone”
- Empower the victim/survivor by asking questions such as:
- How can I help?
- Offer to walk with the victim/survivor to Counseling Services and/or the Title IX Coordinator's office.
- "What would you like to do?"
- "Where would you like me to sit?"
- "Is it okay to hug you?"
- How can I help?
- Take care of yourself, too.
What Not to Do or Say
- Let the person control what happens following an incident of violence. Don’t force
them to report, call the police, or go to the hospital.
- If you are a responsible employee/ mandated reporter, it is important to tell the victim/survivor before they disclose. The victim/survivor should should decide for themself whether or not they wish to make a report.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Always ask permission before touching the victim/survivor.
- Don’t dig for more information or investigate. Allow the victim/survivor to share only what they are comfortable sharing with you.
- Never blame the victim/survivor.
- Manage your emotions. It is difficult to hear that someone you care about was hurt. Threatening the person allegedly responsible for the harm is not helpful to the victim/survivor.
Common Reactions to Traumatic Experiences
Neurobiology of Trauma
Dr. Rebecca Campbell is a professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. Dr. Campbell's research on the neurobiology of trauma informs how we understand the impact of trauma on the brain. Below is a video that gives an analogy to help us to understand how memories are encoded in the brain following a traumatic experience.
Normal Responses to Trauma
- Feeling numb
- Difficulty remembering event(s)
- Difficulty trusting people
- Blaming themselves for trauma
- Increased vigilance
- Michigan Tech Center for Student Mental Health & Well-Being
- Dial Help, Inc. - Dial Help offers free counseling and support to friends and family members of survivors of sexual assault.
- Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter Home
- Sexual Violence Myths and Facts
- 16 Ways You Can Support a Survivor of Violence Against Women