Has someone told you they’ve experienced sexualized violence? Your response will have a big impact on their wellbeing and healing. Remember that sexualized violence is never the fault of the person who has experienced it. No-one asks for, invites or deserves sexualized violence. You don’t have to be a counsellor or a therapist to support a survivor.

This guide from the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre explains how to help. Please reach our for help if you need it.

It can be very scary for a person to tell you they’ve experienced sexualized violence. It’s important to show them they’re safe with you.

  • Be calm and caring.
  • Accept what they say.
  • Never judge or blame them.
  • Let them take their time.
  • Don’t pressure them into saying or doing anything.
  • Tell them you’ll support them.

Do Say

  • I believe you.
  • It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.
  • It’s not your fault. You didn’t deserve this.
  • I’m so sorry this happened to you.
  • You’re not alone, I’m here for you.
  • How can I support you?

Don’t say

  • That can’t be true. Are you sure?
  • It could have been worse.
  • Did you say no? What were you wearing?
  • You should have told me earlier.
  • You need to report it to the police.
  • I’m so angry! I’m going to talk to them!

Respect the survivor’s wishes
It may be tempting to jump in and make decisions for a survivor. But this isn’t a great idea. Remember that sexualized violence takes power away from the individual – it’s one of the most traumatizing things about it.

We need to let survivors know they’re in control. This means giving them options and respecting their decisions.

Provide options
Ask the survivor what they need right now. If they’re not sure, ask specific questions and make suggestions. Tell them they can say “no”. Don’t rush or pressure them.

  • Are you comfortable? See if they need a blanket for warmth or a pillow to hug.
  • Do you need to tell someone? Offer to help them contact a person they trust.
  • Are you worried about your safety? You may want to help them contact a crisis service.
  • Do you need medical care? If the sexualized violence happened within the past seven days, suggest Avalon’s free medical assessments.
  • Do you want to collect evidence? If the sexualized violence happened within the past seven days, suggest Avalon’s free forensic assessments.
  • Do you want to report to the police? Offer to help them contact the police if that’s what they want.
  • Do you need more information about your legal options? Offer to help them contact Avalon’s free legal advocacy program.
  • Do you want to see a therapist? Offer to help them contact Avalon’s free trauma therapy program.
  • Are there any other services you need? Offer to help them contact Avalon’s free community navigation program.

Remember to respect the survivor’s choices – even if you would make a different decision for yourself. The most important thing you can do is show the survivor they are in control.

You may have a lot of difficult and confusing feelings when someone tells you they’ve experienced sexualized violence. It’s especially devastating if they’re someone close to you or if you’re a survivor too.

There’s a risk of:

  • Secondary trauma – this is when you’re traumatized by hearing about someone else’s experience of sexualized violence.
  • Retraumatization – if you’re a survivor supporting another survivor, it may cause you to re-experience your past trauma.

It’s important to look after your own wellbeing while supporting a survivor. Make time for rest and relaxation. Talk about what you’re going through with people you trust or a professional such as a trauma therapist.

Learn more from RAINN’s guide: Self-care for friends and family.