How to Support the Survivors in Your Life

How have you reacted when you heard about a sexual assault case? From the comments that you made, will a survivor think you are going to be supportive? Starting today, say the right words.

Supporting survivors

Talk to everyone you care about and share the following message (referred to as “opening the door” for survivors):

“If anyone ever has or ever does sexually touch you against your will or without your consent, I am always here for you. Always.”

Avoid adding statements such as, “If anyone ever does anything to you, I’ll kill the person.” Comments of retaliation or violence will often scare the survivor and keep them from telling anyone what happened. Focus the conversation solely on supporting the survivor.

Why is it important to begin “opening the door” for everyone you can within the next few hours and days? You never know when someone has been or will be sexually assaulted. If a person hears you “opening the door” and is sexually assaulted months later, the survivor is likely to remember that you are a safe outlet. Or, if the person had been sexually assaulted in the past, they may see you as the one person who will be helpful and understanding.

Now that you have opened the door for a survivor, what do you say when someone tells you they were sexually assaulted? Many people mistakenly respond by saying, “I’m sorry,” which survivors frequently feel is a statement of pity. Instead, show respect and admiration for the survivor by saying:

“Thank you for sharing with me. Clearly, you are strong and courageous. What can I do to help?” 

Let the survivor decide what to discuss. Listen closely. Share the many options available to survivors through crisis centers, websites, and hotlines. When “opening the door” for a survivor, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the life of another person.

Get more information on this topic in the new book, “Can I Kiss You?” which launches this August.

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