Help Someone Else
If someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or misconduct there are many ways for you to help. It takes courage for a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence to share their story with anyone. Never underestimate your power to affect the course of a survivor's healing journey. Here are some tools -- words, actions, and resources -- that can help you support someone who shares personal experiences with you.
You don't have to be an expert--you just have to be yourself. It's not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they've been sexually assaulted, especially if they are a friend or peer. For a survivor, disclosing to someone they care about can be very difficult, so we encourage you to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible.
How to Help Someone Else
Sometimes you don't even need words (or at least not a lot of words), to be there for someone. Many people share that being able to tell their story to someone else lessens the weight of isolation, secrecy, and self-blame. Listening is in and of itself an act of love.
- Confirm the person's safety. Ask the survivor, "Are you safe right now?" If they say no, help them create a plan to get to a safe place. Call 911 if necessary.
- Provide nonjudgmental support. Your role is not to determine whether or not something occurred. Your primary responsibility is to remain supportive of the survivor, while referring the person to others who are trained in providing assistance and/or intervening.
You can best help a survivor by offering options and leaving space for them to decide where to go from there. Here are some campus, local, and national resources to direct them to as appropriate:
- You can help the person get medical care if needed.
- You can help the person consider whether to make a report with the police or with the University.
- You can share on-campus or off-campus confidential resources.
- You can let them know about available supportive measures such as no-contact directives, housing relocation, adjustment of schedules, time off, etc.
Saint Xavier University has classified all employees, including student employees as Mandated Reporters of any knowledge they have that a member of the community is experiencing sexual harassment and/or retaliation, unless they are confidential resources (link to confidential resources).
- If you are required to report the incident, explain your reporting responsibilities to the person who has disclosed the information to you.
- Complete and submit the Sexual Misconduct Reporting Form.
Do's and Don'ts
- Give the survivor your complete attention.
- Validate the survivor's feelings. Here are some specific phrases RAINN's National
Sexual Assault Hotline staff recommends to be supportive through a survivor's healing
- "I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this." It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won't be believed, or worried they'll be blamed. Leave any "why" questions or investigations to the experts--your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur--everyone responds to traumatic events differently.
- "It's not your fault. / You didn't do anything to deserve this." Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
- "You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can." Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.
- "I'm sorry this happened." Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like "This must be really tough for you," and, "I'm so glad you are sharing this with me," help to communicate empathy.
- Ask the survivor what they need and follow-up as needed.
- Remind the survivor that they are not alone, and that other people of all genders have experienced sexual harassment and misconduct.
- Provide the survivor with information available resources.
- Complete and submit the Sexual Misconduct Reporting Form if you are a University employee.
- Take care of yourself after dealing with the situation. Get support for yourself if you need it. Consider speaking with a confidential resource.
- Tell the survivor that you know what they are going through or talk about your own issues or history.
- Question or minimize the validity of the victim's claims. A victim's worst fear is not being believed. Doubting the validity of their claims will only cause them more pain. Also, remember that over 92-98% of REPORTED rapes are not false reports.
- Seem cold or unapproachable. If you do this, the survivor may feel like they have no right to talk about what has happened to them. Don't make this situation more difficult than it needs to be for them. Open yourself up to them and make your presence and support known.
- Make excuses for the perpetrator. The assailant's actions are inexcusable. Don't suggest that the survivor approach the assailant to make sense of what happened or to "clear the air." Don't suggest a simple apology will remedy the problem.
- Tell the survivor what they should do or make decisions for them.
- Demand to know every detail of the rape or abuse.
- Share the survivor's story without his or her permission.
- Touch the survivor's leg, shoulder, hand, etc. unless they have explicitly told you that it is okay to do so.
- Guarantee complete confidentiality, particularly if you are a University employee with a reporting obligation.