Supporting Survivors

The emotional impact of abuse, harassment, or assault can be both immediate and long-lasting. A friend or loved one  may confide in you 10 minutes or 10 years after experiencing sexual misconduct —whenever it happens, it can be a difficult and important conversation. The most helpful thing you can do to be supportive is to  listen, let them lead the conversation, and direct them to professional resources. .  Your friend may be experiencing any of a wide range of responses and/or emotions: there is no “typical” way to react to these types of experiences. 

The acceptance and support of friends and loved ones can be vital steps in the healing process for a survivor.  Sexual violence almost always involves a violation of trust; it can often leave survivors doubting their own judgment.  By being understanding and supportive, you can help your friend begin to regain some of that trust and confidence.  

Strategies for helping:

  • Listen and demonstrate that you believe them. Be sure your friend knows you will be supportive. It is important for your friend to know they are believed and not judged.  If you find yourself doubting your friend’s story or experience, don’t express it.  That is not helpful and is often re-traumatizing.  When you can, call SHARE to talk through your own feelings and concerns.

  • Let your friend lead the conversation. Allow your friend to determine the pace and focus of the conversation. Sexual misconduct is often a disempowering experience. An essential part of support is allowing the survivor to maintain control over what happens next. 

  • Inform yourself about resources.  Spend some time on this site learning what options your friend might have, and offer information as appropriate.  Be sure to let your friend be the one to make the decisions about who to talk to, what services to access, and what actions to take next.  You may disagree with some decisions but the important step is to listen and not judge. Help them to understand the available options, but your friend should be the one to decide how to proceed. 

  • Be reassuring. Avoid judgmental questions or statements and avoid using labels that the person has not used to describe their experience. Remind your friend that they are not at fault. The blame lies only with the person(s) who committed the acts of sexual misconduct. 

If you are supporting your friend, be sure to take care of yourself:

  • Be aware of your own feelings. You may feel hurt, angry, guilty, anxious, or frightened. Such feelings are understandable but your reactions may feel surprising, confusing, or overwhelming. There is no “typical” way to react to these types of situations.

  • Know and respect your own limits. There is only so much you can do to help your friend. You can provide support and compassion. Try not to offer more than you can give, and encourage your friend to seek additional support.

  • Remember that it was not your fault. You may feel guilty, thinking that you could have done something to prevent your friend from being hurt. Remind yourself that the blame lies only with the person(s) who committed the acts of sexual misconduct.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for help. Find someone other than the survivor to talk with about your feelings. Talking with someone else can help you understand your own emotions and give you a clearer perspective on the situation.  SHARE is available for you, too.

  • Do not forget to take care of yourself. This will help both you and your friend.

Visit our FAQ page for additional guidance on supporting someone who has experienced sexual misconduct.