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 perpetrator, 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 be a perpetrator, anyone can be a victim-survivor. We know that victim-survivors and perpetrators 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 believing the victim-survivor's narrative.

For more information, consider contacting the SACE Director or SACE Intern (860-685-3214) to discuss further, or review the Resources page.