Helping Survivors: A Checklist for Friends and Family

Friends and family members are often affected when someone they care about is sexually abused or assaulted. They want to help but may not be sure what to do. Here is a checklist friends and family should follow to best support a survivor:

  • Believe the survivor.
  • Advocate for the survivor.
  • Validate the survivor’s feelings.
  • Be compassionate and nonjudgmental and ensure the survivor’s confidentiality.
  • Be careful not to label the survivor (e.g., as victim, handicapped person, prostitute, drug addict, mentally ill).
  • Be honest. Dishonesty will come across non-verbally.
  • Pay attention to your body language and non-verbal interaction (e.g., eye contact, facial expressions, body language, anxiety, fear).
  • Make communication two-way. Use words the survivor understands, avoid jargon, and encourage the survivor to ask questions.
  • Communicate respect.
  • Display empathy. Attempt to put yourself in the survivor’s shoes.
  • Demonstrate concern. Don’t do all the talking -- often, the survivor may just want to talk, so... LISTEN.
  • Observe. The survivor may not be able to tell you what s/he needs; observe and you may be able to anticipate needs or concerns.
  • Be aware of cultural and religious differences. Depending on their background, survivors may react to trauma and intervention in very different ways. Recognize various attitudes toward receiving help and tailor your interaction based on what the survivor gives you. Do not introduce your personal religious beliefs.
  • Ask about any special needs a survivor might have, but treat a survivor with a disability no different from anyone else.
  • For teen survivors, LISTEN. Do not assume ignorance because the survivor is a teenager; believe in his or her ability to make decisions.
  • Do not equate drug use or dependence with a lack of intelligence or guilt.
  • Know that promiscuous behavior is never an invitation to unwanted sexual activity.