How to Support Someone Who Has or Is Experiencing Harm

It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions when you find out someone has experienced sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, or stalking. Research involving survivors of SADDVS shows that the reactions of people they tell can have long-term negative effects on their recovery. The research generally shows that if survivors are met with negative reactions (e.g., blaming or not believing the survivor), they are more likely to experience negative effects, including increased post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

If you find out that someone has experienced harm, there are several things that you should remember. Your first priority is to make sure that the person is safe. This is especially true if an incident just happened. Here are some things to remember:

  1. Believe what the survivor is telling you.
  2. You should assure the survivor knows that what happened to them is not their fault.
  3. Listen without judgement.
  4. Try not to ask too many questions.
  5. Don’t ask why questions (they can come off as though you are blaming the survivor).
  6. Know the on and off campus resources that are available to the survivor.
  7. Ask the survivor if they would like help accessing resources.
  8. Show care and concern towards the survivor.
  9. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself.
  10. Utilize resources for yourself if needed and practice self-care.

It isn’t always easy to know exactly what to say when someone confides in you. Here are a few phrases that you can say:

  1. I believe you.
  2. It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.
  3. It’s not your fault.
  4. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.
  5. I care about you and am here to listen or help.
  6. I’m sorry this happened to you.
  7. You are not alone.

For more information on how to respond to someone who has disclosed to you, check out these websites:

RAINN: Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault

No More: Supporting Survivors

National Domestic Violence Hotline: Support Others