Ways to support the survivors in your life
Surviving sexual violence can be lonely and isolating, and when a survivor has the courage to reach out to someone they trust for support, it’s a huge step.
We know that many people are already supporting survivors and that often someone will speak to a friend or family member for that initial support. We wanted to reach out, in solidarity and to share some examples of things you can do to support the survivors in your life.
We hope they are helpful – both to you, and to the person you are supporting.
Please remember that it will have taken a lot for the person who has been through sexual violence to tell you their story. Always believe what the survivor in your life is telling you and listen when they share their experiences.
Taking the enormous step to disclose the abuse to you means that they are trusting you to hold this information and it is important that you offer your wholehearted support without ‘taking over’ – the survivor will be all too familiar with feelings of powerlessness, and they need to feel in control now.
Try to avoid offering ‘advice’ if you can. This can be hard to do – we want to try and fix things for the people we care about when they are hurting. Yet giving advice, or telling a survivor what to do, can feel like you are trying to control their choices – even if that isn’t your intention at all.
Where they have had all choice removed with what they have been through, it’s important to allow them to make decisions for themselves now. What they will need is to feel heard, to feel believed, and to feel they can make decisions for themselves, rather than doing what they feel others want them to do. It can be helpful to research any resources – a helpline number, for example.
Sometimes if someone is in a state of trauma, just letting them know support is out there can really help, without telling them they ‘should’ use it.
Please understand that however the survivor may have been affected, and whatever their feelings about the abuse, it is OK to feel whatever they do. They may feel rage, they may feel despair, shame, hopelessness. They may feel many more things or nothing at all – their feelings are personal and normal. It is also important that you know that the abuse was never the survivor’s fault.
Society tells us all the time that we should act in a way that helps us avoid abuse. But the blame and guilt always lies with the abuser and the person you are supporting may need to hear that from you, to reassure them.
Avoid speaking over the survivor or making things about you and your feelings or experiences. And please do not break their confidence. It’s so important survivors have as much control as possible over who they tell, and when.
If you can, try to hold your own feelings separate for now. The person you are supporting deserves not to have to carry them, along with whatever they are feeling.
Yet, it’s also incredibly important that you have someone that you feel able to talk to about your feelings around the sexual abuse of the person you care about – being supported yourself will make you better able to support them. Sometimes you will need space for yourself and your feelings and it is important to acknowledge this.
“From my own experience, as a parent, I wanted to fix it and make it all better, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know where to begin. I believed her without hesitation and did my very best to manage my own feelings in another space. I used MOSAC and they were a life saver for me. Getting the support that I needed helped me to help her in the best way possible.”
There are some great resources that go into how to support the survivors in your life in more detail. You can access some of them here:
Friends, family members and professionals can also call the national Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 802 9999 for a one-off support call. The helpline is open every single day from 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm.
That someone close to you has confided in you about abuse they have been through, is a huge responsibility, and also a huge privilege. We hope that this short piece helps to know how best to do this work. We also hope you are able to find support for yourself, which you deserve too.