Communicating with the Victim/Survivor
Often, victims of intepersonal violence reach out to family and close friends for support. The communication that occurs during this disclosure is important. You want to make sure that you give the victim a safe space that allows them, if they are comfortable with doing so, to express feelings, tell their story, and ask for help.
The most important thing a family member or friend can say are:
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “I’m sorry this happened.”
- “You’re not alone.”
- “I’m here for you no matter what you decide.”
- "In no way did you deserve this."
Guidelines to follow:
- Be a good listener
- Believe the survivor
- Express support
- Empower the survivor: The empowerment wheel shown below can be helpful in creating an environment that is opposite of the controlling environment that was experienced during the sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking. This model allows the person to feel personal power in decision making- remember, we don’t want to make decisions for them. We have to support them in what they are most comfortable with.
Here are some suggestions on what NOT to do:
- Get angry.
- Ask questions regarding details of the incident. The victim/survivor may not want to share or recall the incident.
- Confront the offender or encourage revenge. A confrontation can add additional trauma, or threaten the safety of the victim/survivor.
- Hold or touch the victim/survivor without permission. The victim/survivor may not be comfortable if you use physical touch. Simply ask, “Is it ok if I give you a hug?”.
- Say “Everything will be ok.” It will take time to heal from this experience. We don’t want to minimize what happened to them. We want to ensure the victim/survivor knows that they will be supported now and through the healing process.
- Say “Calm down.” This person experienced a traumatic incident and probably navigating an array of emotions. They have a right to be upset, flustered, angry, sad. Let them express those emotions in a safe space with you.
- Tell the survivor what you would have done.
- Tell the survivor they should have done something differently.
- Ask why they didn’t fight back or scream.
- Blame the victim—don’t ask “what were you wearing,” “Why didn’t you walk with someone,” say “you should have known better.”