What do I say and how can I help?
1. Start by believing the survivor. You are not responsible for investigating.
2. Empower and validate the survivor. Sexual violence is often a crime of power and control. Validate the survivor’s experience and empower them to make their own decisions about their recovery process.
3. Don’t blame the survivor. Victim blaming includes placing any portion of the blame, no matter how small, on the survivor. Avoid asking questions about why the survivor made certain choices. (such as “Why did you wear that outfit” or “Why did you drink alcohol?”)
4. Listen to the survivor. Give the survivor the opportunity to tell their story in their own time. Avoid prying for details as it could force reprocessing that the survivor may not be ready for. Ask how you can best support them.
5. Do not minimize or catastrophize the experience of the survivor. Instead, listen to and validate their story without verbalizing your judgments of what their experience was or was not.
6. Understand that there are various responses to trauma. Individuals process and cope with trauma in various ways. There is not a “normal” or “correct” reaction. Emotions, mood, and outlook can change through time and circumstances and survivors may react in ways that are unexpected.
7. Know your resources. If your loved one is seeking therapy or additional resources, you could be a valuable asset in helping them navigate these resources. Be aware that persons of marginalized identities may prefer resources specific to their identity. At the University of Utah, victim advocates can guide the survivor through available options.
Find More Resources
8. If the survivor wants to report, information on the process can be found here. However, it is important to remember that it is the survivor’s decision to report. The survivor is the expert on their situation and it is not your place to sway them in either direction.
9. University of Utah employees are required to report incidences of sexual assault to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action/Title IX. Learn How to Make a Report
10. For a more comprehensive guide:
Download the Rape Recovery Center’s Guide for Family and Friends
Visit these pages to learn more about helping a friend after gender-based violence:
It is important that survivors do not feel alone in their experiences and recovery. This reassurance can be obtained from a variety of sources, including counselors, support groups, and advocates. Trained advocates can present a variety of options to survivors and help connect them to effective, individualized resources.
Taking Care of Yourself
Friends, family members, or partners may also be impacted by the traumatic experience of the survivor. You may experience a variety of emotions such as guilt, shame, helplessness, or none of these as you interact with the survivor. Be sure to take care of yourself. You can access many of the same resources available to primary survivors, such as self-care guides, support groups, and therapy.
A bystander is a person who is present before, during, or after an event, but not directly involved in the altercation. In the case of a potentially harmful event, bystanders directly or indirectly intervene to de-escalate the situation. Here are some suggestions on how to intervene in a potentially harmful situation:
- Create a distraction
- Directly ask what is going or if someone needs help
- Refer to an authority (resident advisor, security guard, law enforcement officer)
- Enlist others
For more information, attend a student Bystander Intervention Training at the University of Utah or visit the websites below: