Supporting survivors of sexualized violence
Supporting a survivor of sexualized violence can feel overwhelming and may bring up feelings of uncertainty or worry about doing the right thing. By being here, doing this research, you are showing good care to your community! The key may be to consider what support you have capacity to offer, and utilize skills of listening, empathy, and support.
Below are general ideas for offering support to the survivor and to yourself as the support person. You might find that this page is less of a checklist and more of a guidepost! For more specific tips, see pages on the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre website for how to help as a parent, partner, or friend.
Offering support can often look as simply as sharing a listening ear. Sharing a story can make all the difference for lessening feelings of isolation, shame, and worry. Think of what helps one feel listened to: holding space for whatever feelings come up, attentive body language, and reminding them that you are here, listening.
- Some things you could say: I’m here for you; take your time, I am listening.
- Avoid: interrupting; waiting to respond with a relevant story.
Affirm, validate, and believe
There are so many myths, power structures, and oppressive social ideas that tell us to judge survivors, and to not believe them. Sharing a story about sexualized violence can be incredibly difficult, and survivors need our support in believing what they have gone through. Validating means listening to hear, and responding to confirm that you have heard what they have said, helping the survivor feel seen and heard. See this video on the difference between empathy and sympathy Brené Brown on Empathy.
Some things you could say: that must have felt really awful/scary/bad; I believe you; thank you for telling me about this.
Avoid: questioning elements of the survivor’s story; asking for specific details.
To centre their needs and make sure they have as much autonomy as possible, ask the survivor what kind of support they are looking for. Avoid telling them what they should do (this includes reporting the incident or going to the hospital) or sharing their story with others without permission. Some questions to consider might be:
- What do you need right now?
- Do you want someone to stay with you right now?
- Do you want to seek structural support through a crisis line/sexual assault center/hospital/police? Do you want me to accompany you?
- Are you safe right now? (this can look like safety from suicide or safety from ongoing violence)
Supporting ourselves when we care for another person is just as important to make sure we don’t become too overwhelmed or burned out. Consider if you need to set boundaries or limits for yourself at any point – you are allowed to communicate these to the survivor to make you’re supporting them as best you can!
You may have feelings that come up during the process of supporting someone else, and you may want to honor those with some alone time, or by processing them with another person (while honoring any confidential information the survivor has shared with you), such as a friend, caregiver, counselor, or elder.
Remember that even when you are supporting others: you are not alone!