How to Support a Survivor

Learning that a friend, colleague, partner, sibling, or other person in your life has experienced interpersonal violence can be difficult. If someone is choosing to reach out to you for support, they most likely see you as a safe resource. Serving as one of the people, if not the only person, a survivor chooses to share their story with can be intimidating, as we always want to say the right thing to support the people in our life that we care about. 

Supporting survivors overall is more about listening and opening your heart, rather than saying "the right thing." Here are something to consider if someone in your life chooses to disclose their experience of interpersonal violence with you:

  • Listen actively and without judgment. Active listening is the key to supporting a survivor. Not saying much and being present to actively hear a survivor's narrative goes a long way.
  • Validate their experience and feelings. How a survivor feels, no matter what that emotion looks like, is their response to coping with the trauma of interpersonal violence. These responses are often involuntary, so validating and normalizing a survivor's experience or feelings can help make them feel supported.
  • Explore options moving forward. Remind the survivor they are not alone and they have many are resources for support available.
  • Empower them to make the choice which feels best for them. Providing survivors with choices is key to them starting their healing process. Since interpersonal violence involves power and choice being taken away, reminding survivors that they can choose what happens next and when can be empowering. 

Guiding Language for Responding to Disclosures

There is not a perfect script for responding to disclosures that works universally for everyone. For those who feel some guiding language is helpful, below are some phrases to think about using when responding to disclosures.

  • “I’m so sorry to hear this happened. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
  • “How can I best support you?”
  • “What do you feel you need right now?”
  • "I believe you, and I’m going to do everything in my power to support you.”
  • “Thank you so much for telling me this. You are so courageous for taking this step and reaching out for help.”

Other Things to Keep In Mind:

  • Avoid asking detailed questions: we don’t need to know all of the details of everything that just happened, just enough to know how they would like to proceed next. They haven't asked us to investigate what happened, they are only reaching out for support and help right now.
  • Do not make assumptions. Whether they're about how the survivor is responding, what their narrative is, or the identity of the person who has done harm, assumptions can be harmful. If the survivor doesn't’t tell you this information on their own, then it's not information you need to know.
  • Anyone can do harm, and anyone can experience harm. We know that those who experience harm and those who do harm can be of any gender identity/expression, race, social or economic background, ability level, religious identity, etc,. Assuming identities on any person involved may come across as "victim-blaming" or that you're not honoring the narrative of someone who has experienced harm.

Supporting Survivors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the global pandemic ongoing, this leaves a lot of room for uncertainty for all of us. Some might even describe it as a collective, traumatic experiences. Feelings of uncertainty, among others, can be compounded and exacerbated for survivors as they navigate healing from traumatic experiences. In addition to the resources and tips listed above, consider the following when supporting survivors during this challenging time:

  • Know your resources: There are many resources, locally and nationally, that may feel supportive to survivors. Having these ready to offer as options will be important. 
  • Encourage practicing self-careReminding survivors to prioritze self-care and coping skills is really important. Offering to practice self-care techniques together can be beneficial for both of you too!
  • Check-in: Reaching out for help may feel burdensome for survivors, during this time and others. Sending a text, scheduling a phone call or video chat, writing a hand-written letter; these are all opportunities to offer small reminders that you are there, ready to provide support (and connect them to other resources as necessary), even if they're not ready to talk to you yet.
  • Be patient, and flexibleHonor however a survivor is showing up. Validate all that they are feeling. Encourage them to connect with additional supportive resources, if necessary. This is a very activating time for everyone, and how this manifests for survivors can shift and change frequently. Healing and coping are not linear processes.
  • Hold space for yourselfTake time to rest and recharge for you, after holding space for survivors. This is "heart-work," meaning it takes a lot of emotional energy to support survivors. To continue being there for those we care for, we have to also hold space for ourselves. 

For more information, consider contacting the SACE Director or SACE Intern (860-685-2696) to discuss further, or review the Resources page.