When someone tells you that they are the victim of assault or trauma, the best way to respond is simply to Start by Believing. Survivors are often afraid that others won’t believe them, or that they will blame them for what happened, so it is important to simply listen and offer support and whatever types of assistance they want. Let them take the lead on what they need from you.
Knowing What to Say
People often wonder what they should say when someone tells them they have been the victim of assault or trauma. They worry about saying the “wrong thing,” or somehow making the situation worse. This can often cause a person to say nothing at all, which may isolate the victim further.
- The best messages are the simplest ones. “I believe you. I’m sorry this happened. How can I help?”
- Allow the survivor to speak openly and freely. Let them decide what they want to tell you about the assault or trauma – don’t force them to talk about it if they aren’t ready.
- Try not to ask “why” questions, like, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Even if you are asking this type of question with the best intentions, it can sound accusatory and may cause further self-blame for the survivor.
Other Ways to Help
When in doubt, just ask the survivor how you can help. For example, ask if they want you to stay with them or go to the health care facility or come to Advocates with them. Let the survivor know you are there for them, but always let them make the choice to accept your help or not. Don’t take it personally if the survivor is not ready to accept your help.