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 Supporting Survivors: How to Help

General Info

Supporting survivors of sexualized violence can feel overwhelming and uncertain. Trust your connection with the survivor and try to balance the support you offer with support you give yourself. These are some suggestions.  (Please note there is more specific resources at the bottom of this page if you are a parent or a partner.)

Empathize:

  • Offer support and listen, making space for whatever feelings are expressed
  • Let them know you believe their experience. Say “I believe you”
  • Tell them that you believe in their ability to recover, that healing is possible
  • Let them know that whatever they did or did not do was what done to survive the circumstances
  • Validate what they see to be the effects of their experience: it is important not minimize their experience to try to get them to feel better
  • Tell them that your feelings for them have not changed as a result of hearing their story
  • Tell them that they did not deserve what happened to them
  • Let them know that 100% of the responsibility rests with the offender
  • Reassure them that it is not their fault
  • Support comes in many forms; talking may feel overwhelming, be open to other ways of being supportive (walking together, doing “normal” activities together, offering to help with everyday things, etc.)
  • Ask permission before offering physical support or comfort
  • Focus your energy on the survivor  rather than trying to understand why the offender did what they did

Educate Yourself:

  • Learn about the issue so you can understand their experience better
  • Reinforce that the abuse is entirely the offender’s responsibility
  • Accept that the relationships in the survivor’s life may be strained or stressed due to the impact of sexualized violence
  • Be aware that some of a survivor’s feelings about the offender may be inappropriately directed at a safe person, and that you can gently notice this and recognize that it is a normal way of dealing with overwhelming feelings
  • Let survivors make their own decisions
  • Recognize that your role is not to fix, but to support: ask what is needed
  • Accept that you can’t fix it
  • Remember it is not your job to “rescue” the survivor.  Honor their resiliency and that they what is best for them on their healing journey.
  • It is best not take control of everything in order to “look after”  a survivor

Take Care of Yourself:

  • Recognize your feelings are separate and share your feelings appropriately
  • Recognize and respect your own limits, find ways of communicating these limits
  • Find a supportive person to talk to about the impact on you; talk to a friend you trust, try a safe support group or make use of counselling support or a crisis line
  • Simplify your life when possible; take a time out if you need to
  • Stay connected to your boundaries and values: set realistic goals
  • Celebrate the small things
  • Practice self awareness: allow yourself to grieve and feel your feelings
  • Recognize that healing will have its own pace, and that the crisis stage will pass

Support is available: VSAC crisis and information at 250-383-3232