How to Support a Survivor

When someone you know experiences sexual assault, relationship abuse, stalking, or sexual harassment, you may not know what to say or do. The following suggestions will not eliminate their pain or make the trauma disappear, but if you react in a supportive way you can help them feel safer and less isolated.

  • Listen – Pay attention, don’t interrupt, and show you care.
  • Address immediate safety concerns – Find out if the person is safe/has a safe place to go or if anyone else may be in danger.
  • Contact an advocate – Call the Victim Services 24/7 hotline (407-823-1200) for more information on how to help. If it is okay with the person, call while he/she is with you. An advocate can talk with the person over the phone, come to your location, or arrange for the person to visit their office.
  • Be prepared – Have contact numbers, websites, email addresses, and referral options readily available.
  • Be flexible – Respect the person’s wishes, and do not force them to do what you think they should.
  • Be realistic – Recovery time and healing may take longer than you think.
  • Understand – Different people react to trauma in different ways. Accept that there may be changes in the survivor’s personality or in your relationship. Keep in mind that healing takes time and varies between individuals.
  • Obtain resources – Ask for information to keep on hand or request a presentation for your class, department, student group, residence hall, etc.
  • Respect confidentiality – Be honest if you are required to report what the person is telling you. Victim advocates, licensed counselors, medical professionals, attorneys, and clergy are confidential resources available on campus.
  • Repeat information – People in crisis often do no retain verbal information/instructions. Follow up by email or provide written materials, if it is safe for the person to take them home.
  • Self-care – You may experience vicarious trauma. Take care of yourself and address your feelings, while being careful not to overwhelm the survivor with your own emotions. If you seek support for yourself, be sure to maintain the survivor’s anonymity.