How Can I Support Survivors?
TW: Sexual Assault
When you respond, remain calm. You may feel shocked, angry, etc. when hearing a survivor's story, but showing these intense emotions may cause discomfort to the survivor.
Believe the survivor. Many survivors face disbelief and questions when they come forward. Let them know that you believe them.
Ask permission if you want to physically comfort a survivor by hugging them, holding their hand, etc.. This is import in ensuring the survivor feels their bodily autonomy is being maintained and that they are in control. Do not touch or physically comfort a survivor without their express permission.
Maintain confidentiality when discussing a survivor's experience. Coming forward is challenging and this is NOT your story to tell - do not share it unless you have express permission of the survivor.
Be patient with a survivor. Healing can be a long and exhausting process, and it is by no means a linear one. Avoid commenting on the amount of time it takes someone to heal and avoid asking
why it is taking them so long to heal. Support their journey, no matter how long that may take.
Check in with the survivor every now and then. Let them know that you are there for them and you support them. Remind them that you still believe them and care about them, no matter how long ago the assault occurred.
Use phrases like:
"I believe you."
"Thank you for sharing with me."
"It's not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong."
"You are not alone."
"I am here for you."
"I am here to listen and help in any way I can."
Listen to survivors when they tell you what is important to them during their healing. Avoid projecting your own assumptions and opinions onto their healing - what you may think is a major breakthrough or pitfall for them may not be what they consider a major moment in their recovery. Instead, support them through the low points and celebrate the high points, whatever those may be.
Know your resources. Another big reason many survivors don't get help or report the assault is because they aren't sure who to go to or what their options are. Knowing local resources for reporting to law enforcement or Title IX coordinators, or victims service centers, counselors, and support groups that are available gives you the opportunity to point a survivor in the right direction if they aren't sure how to start.
Make sure to take care of yourself when you are supporting survivors. It is critical to be supportive, be an involved bystander, and to advocate on behalf of survivors, but compassion fatigue is real. Remember that you can't pour from an empty cup. Set boundaries for yourself. If you are triggered from hearing survivors' stories or if you find a survivor's story is consuming your life, consider taking a step back. This isn't healthy for you. Find a counselor or support group that you can speak with confidentially about these things if you need.