Supporting a survivor of sexual violence can be challenging. You might be afraid of saying or doing something “wrong” or upsetting them. It is important to remember that you don't have to be an expert. The most important thing you can do is to listen and let the person who's confiding in you tell you what they need.
Things to consider when someone is confiding in you:
- Listen - show that you're listening to what they are telling you, even if it's difficult for you to hear.
You might have lots of questions but try to allow them the time to say what they need to and try not to interrupt them. Just taking the time to listen to someone and talk about what has happened can help. These six active listening tips might help you support them.
- Let them stay in control. Sexual abuse, rape or any kind of sexual violence can make a person feel powerless and 'out of control'. Survivors want and deserve to feel in charge of their own lives again. It's important to resist the temptation to 'take over', for example by arranging and doing things that you think are best. Instead, support them to explore their feelings and options and make their own decisions.
- Respect their decisions. Respect their choices, even if you don't think they're the ones you'd make in their situation. Doing things for a survivor (like making an appointment on their behalf without checking that's what they want first) can end up making things worse, even when you were only trying to help.
- Be patient. Many survivors may find it difficult to trust others because of their experiences, particularly if they've not been believed in the past. At the same time, if someone you know has told you that they were abused or raped, they've put trust in you. Try to repay that trust by being patient and don't push for them to tell you anything before they're ready. It might not be easy for them to start talking about experiences they might have stayed silent about for a long time.
If it's your partner who's experienced sexual violence, whether recently or in the past, they might find intimacy and sexual contact difficult. This is not a reflection on you and your partner’s relationship. It's about your partner's experiences and feelings.
Reassure them, respect their wishes and be patient.
- Believe them. It's important to believe what they're saying even if it's difficult for you to hear. Remember what has happened is not the fault of the survivor. No survivor should ever be blamed for not preventing their own abuse, the blame lies with the perpetrator.
- Recognise their courage. It takes a lot of strength and courage to talk about experiences of sexual violence. Acknowledge that.
Take care of yourself. It’s important that you take care of yourself. If you’ve heard something distressing or if something is troubling you, the University’s Support and Wellbeing Services offers confidential help to students.