HOW TO TALK TO A SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Skills you need.
If you are close to a survivor, please take the time to learn how to speak with them regarding their assault. If you are a survivor, feel free to share this link with those from whom you gather support.
TALKING TO SURVIVORS
I've told my story multiple times, and every time I have been met with different responses. I don't blame anyone for reacting the way that they thought was best, but many approaches didn't work for me. As such, I have put together this page to help a survivor's support groups to know what to say and do to best support the survivor.
-Brittney, We Will Founder
Acknowledge their courage
Telling of a sexual assault can be an incredibly uncomfortable experience that dredges up a considerable amount of trauma. They may feel worried that they will be blamed, that people won't believe them, or that they will be forced to tell more than what they are comfortable with. Starting by telling the survivor that you recognize their bravery in telling you their story will help confirm to them that they made the right choice by coming forward.
Thank the survivor for telling you
Simply acknowledge that the survivor trusts you enough to come forward to you and to rely on you. It is an honor to have someone who depends on you. It is a responsibility you now hold, whether you intended to or not. You now are helping them carry an immense burden they have been carrying alone. This can be a big ask, but thank them for trusting you. If they told you later than you expected, or if you fear they haven't told the whole story, it is best to refrain from saying these things, as it may increase the guilt they already feel. Thank them that they are telling you now, and continue on, listening.
Tell them it's not their fault
No matter the circumstances of a survivor's assault, it will never be their fault. They may need a reminder of this and to hear it. Survivors will often blame themselves and scrutinize their every move in an assault and what they could have done differently when truly, the answer is that they could not have done anything differently. However, when they tell their story, they may fear that you are also scrutinizing their actions, even if this is not at all true. Let them know that you know that it's not their fault.
Tell them they are not alone
There are options here. If you are up for it, tell them you are here to support them and listen to them whenever they need. If you don't believe that you are capable of carrying their emotional burden alone, ask them what emotional support networks they have. Support them in reaching out to others and suggest professional resources when appropriate.
Check in periodically
Although this can feel awkward, a simple "how are you doing?" when you are alone with a survivor can help them feel comfortable opening up about any trauma effects they may be feeling. It is important for survivors to know that you still care and are interested in supporting them. Even if the survivor has professional support, it is still critical that they have your support. You could ask them how their professional support is going, or follow up on steps they told you they intended to take.
Refer them to resources
Visit our "Survivor Resources" page to find resources for the survivor.
What to avoid
Phrases that suggest guilt for the assault
Urging them to take steps they are not ready for
Asking them when they will feel better or get over it
Guilting them for not telling you sooner