Helping Someone

How to Be Supportive

Survivors have a variety of reactions to trauma, including feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, or anxiety. There's no one "right" way to respond. They may want to pretend the event didn't happen or want to talk about it at length. A survivor may not want to be alone, or they may isolate themself; they may also dissociate and disconnect in social situations.

It's common for survivors to not initially name what happened to them as rape or abuse, although they recognize something is wrong. Once they start to feel safer, they may begin trying to understand the experience by talking about it. In speaking with survivors, use language that validates the survivor's experience, and reflects back to them what they've told you. Reinforce that you believe the survivor, and that whatever they are feeling and however they want to deal with their experience is okay. If a survivor speaks to you about an event that happened years ago, realize that healing can be a long, ongoing process.

Avoid using language or asking questions that could suggest that what happened was the survivor's fault. Remember that the actions of another person harmed them. Don't insist that they "have to" do anything, including getting help or reporting the event. Give them time and space to process what happened, and affirm to them that there's no timetable for healing.

Listen to what a survivor has to say, but avoid asking intrusive questions. Only ask what you need to know in that moment: Is the survivor safe right now? Is there anything they want to ask about or need? Asking intrusive or extensive questions can be re-traumatizing and will not make the survivor feel supported. It can take a huge amount of trust and effort for a survivor to speak about their experiences - don't push someone to tell you more than they feel comfortable saying.

Avoid asking why questions or pressing for details. If your friend has been sexually assaulted, avoid pressing them for details of what happened; it can be re-traumatizing. You can ask them to share as little or as much as they want,, but don't push for more. Why questions can also seem like you are blaming your friend or family member for the behavior of the perpetrator.

Don't isolate the person. You might get frustrated sometimes when you feel that they aren't listening to your advice or concerns or taking the "right" action. That's ok. It is important for the person to make their own decisions even if they aren't always decisions that you would chose. Be patient and let them know you care.

Use I statements when talking to your friend. Using you statements sound like you are placing blame. Example "I've noticed that you are eating very little and I'm worried about you" rather than "You're not eating enough."

Don't force them to do anything. Offer options, but unless you think they are in immediate danger and need to call 911 do not force them to take any actions including reporting the assault to the police or the College.

Don't assume that they can just "get over it." A traumatic experience requires professional help and treatment. They are not because this person is weak or because they are not trying. Healing and recovery are a process and can different amounts of time for different people.

Keep your friend's story confidential. Don't talk about what the person shared with others. If you feel you are carrying a heavy burden and need to speak with someone, seek professional counseling as they can keep the information you share confidential. Just because someone shares this information with you does not make you the information keeper. It is up to the person with whom they wish to share it and when.

Seek out support and information for yourself. It can be really helfpul for you to talk to a professional who is bound by confidentiality to help you work through what to do to help the person who shared their situation with you and work out your own thoughts and feelings in a safe space.