Six ways to support a survivor when they first share their experience

1. Focus on their experience and only give advice when it’s requested. Listen with care.

Thank you for sharing that with me.

I’m sorry that happened to you – you do not deserve to be treated that way,

2. Resist the urge to share details of similar experiences, whether those happened to you or to someone you know. For example, we often believe that if we tell a survivor that our friend / cousin / coworker was harassed or assaulted, she will feel like she’s not alone. That may be true once you’ve established an empathetic connection, but at the start of a conversation, those words may be alienating since they turn the conversation back to you. Remember: the focus should be on the survivor.

3. Validate their experience and emotions by offering affirming statements and questions.

Given what happened, it makes sense you feel / say / do…

Could you tell me more about that?

Wow, that sounds scary / horrible / uncomfortable for you?

What do you mean when you say?

4. Sexual harassment is ultimately about power – one person exerting their power over another. It can be traumatic – stay away from questions or responses like, “why didn’t you report it?” or “why do you keep working there?” Instead, respond with empathy.

What could make you feel whole?

What needs to change in order for you to feel comfortable about  ____ ?”

Let’s talk through a safety plan for you.

5. Support their choices. Empower them,

You did nothing to cause this

What are the options? How do you want to move forward?

I am here to support you whatever you decide and will go / do / be

6. You don’t need to fill in the silence. You don’t need to have answers. You don’t need to guess or read their minds – go ahead and talk about the kinds of supports they need. These needs are fluid and may change.

What happened to you was wrong.

Here are some resources for you – if you like, let’s go through them together.

Hi, it’s me again…

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