Every survivor responds to sexual violence differently. Positive support from friends and family make a big difference in the healing process. It’s important to let survivors make their own choices in coping with sexual violence. Below are some things you can do to support a survivor if they choose to disclose their experience to you.
Believe the survivor | Remember that sexual violence is a crime of power and control. Believing and validating begins the important process of giving power and control back to the survivor. Survivors often fear that no one will believe them.
Listen | If a survivor is telling you their story, let them talk without interruption. Often all a survivor needs is to feel heard and reminded that they are not alone and this was not their fault. Give them space to share and express emotions without fear of judgment or argument.
Respect Boundaries | Respect a survivor’s personal boundaries. Survivors may not want to be hugged, touched or physically consoled.
It Was Not Their Fault | Remind them it was not their fault, regardless of what may have taken place before or after the assault/abuse. Don’t ask questions that imply blame and avoid “should/could” statements. Questions such as “what were you thinking” and statements such as “you shouldn’t have been drinking” imply the survivor is to blame. The only person responsible for the assault/abuse is the person who committed the sexual violence.
Let Them Decide | Because sexual violence is about power and control, survivors should feel as though they are in control of their decisions. Let them decide what they would like to do. You can offer information for local services, but don’t give advice. Remind them that there is no timetable for healing – they decide what their recovery and healing looks like.
Ask How You Can Help | Ask how you can support them. If they don’t know, that’s ok. Let them know that you are here for them.
Learning of sexual violence of a loved one can also have impacts on you. It’s ok to have your own feelings and reactions. Take care of yourself. Our advocates are here to support loved ones too. You can call or text us any day, any time. 1.800.770.1650 or text iowahelp to 20121.