A family member, partner, friend, classmate, colleague or acquaintance may tell you they have experienced sexual violence. It is understandable that you may not know how to deal with the situation and have more questions than answers. Here are a few things to consider if someone shares their story with you.
How to Respond if a Survivor Tells You About Their Assault
Listen to them. In this moment, survivors need someone to talk to. One of the most common reasons people choose not to tell anyone about sexual assault is that they fear people won't believe them. If they tell you about what happened to them, it is because they trust you and want your support.
Be kind. Be supportive and tell them that you want to hear anything they want to tell you. Tell them how much you care about them. The assault may have made them question their own self-worth, so remind them about all the good qualities you appreciate about them.
Be gentle. Don't ask for details of the assault and don't push your opinions on them. You may want them to report the assault to the police, but if the person is an adult the choice is theirs to make.
Be there. Offer to go with them to the hospital or to the police or to counselling. Are they afraid to be alone at night? Ask if they'd like you to stay over. Call them, text them, and invite them to spend time with you. Everyone manages trauma differently, so don't take it personally if they don't respond or are quiet for a while.
Be helpful. You can assist by finding resources they may need, such as medical attention, support from Victim Services, counselling or other services. They may also be having trouble with simple tasks like making meals or household chores. Ask how you can help or, if you see something they need, offer to do it for them.
Keep supporting them. Continue to ask how they're doing and remind them that you're available to listen. At the same time, be careful not to unintentionally overwhelm them. Every situation is different, and you will need to take into account what the right amount of communication and involvement is when supporting a survivor.
Take care of yourself. When someone you care about is sexually assaulted it affects you too. It can be emotionally challenging to support a survivor, so you will need to be gentle with yourself. You may benefit from seeing a counsellor, physical fitness and continuing to do activities you enjoy.
What to Avoid Saying or Doing
Do not blame the survivor. Remember that sexual assault is always the fault of the person who committed the assault. It is never the survivor's fault. Do not suggest anything the survivor could have done to avoid the situation.
Do not break their trust. If someone decides to share their story with you, it is your responsibility to respect their privacy. Do not share their story or experience with others unless:
- they are in immediate danger; or
- the survivor is under 18. If the person sharing with you is a child, you have a duty to report the offence to the police and the Ministry of Social Services. Let the child know you are glad they trusted you enough to share and that you need to tell someone who can help to keep them safe.
Try not to pull away. Sometimes people will pull away from a survivor. This can make the survivor feel very alone in their suffering. If supporting them is becoming overwhelming, you don't need to do it on your own. For further information, please check the list of services available.