When victim-survivors disclose their sexually violent experience, it is important to serve as a positive bystander and source of support as they work through their reactions to the trauma. It is important to remember that a victim-survivor disclosed their assault because they trust you.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you support a survivor:
- Listen to them and believe what they say because fewer than 2-8%* of sexual assault reports are false reports. These numbers are similar to any other crime.
- Avoid victim-blaming language because it puts the responsibility of the assault on the victim, instead of the perpetrator who actually committed the assault (i.e. she shouldn't have been that drunk; look at what she's wearing; why didn't she just leave the situation?)
- Do not make decisions for the survivor. The assault took control away from the victim-survivor, and though well intentioned, making decisions for them may take control away again.
- Focus on the survivor's needs. Avoid talking about how hearing the story makes you feel, instead ask how the victim-survivor is doing and if they need anything.
- Let the survivor know you are there for support. Offer to accompany them to different appointments or stay in with them on the weekend if they do not want to go out.
- Ask before you do anything such as touching them, talking to their friends, reporting any information. Depending on the nature of the assault, doing any of these things may re-victimize them and hinder the healing process.
*source: The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women