It can be hard to know how to act or what to say when someone you care about tells you they are a survivor of sexual violence. Below are some suggestions for how Western students can show your support for survivors.
[WESTERN EMPLOYEES: If you are a Western faculty or staff member, including RAs and graduate assistants, and you are NOT employed as a psychologist, mental health counselor, survivor advocate, or other health care professional, please refer to the guidelines for responsible employees found here: https://wp.wwu.edu/sexualviolence/2015/09/01/responsibility-to-report/. Psychologists, mental health counselors, survivor advocates, and healthcare professionals at Western are confidential employees who are not required to make a Title IX report.]
Reassure the survivor that whatever emotion they are feeling is valid, that anyone can experience violence, and that the violence they experienced is not their fault. Embarrassment, guilt, numbness, and anxiety are common emotions to feel. By normalizing these feelings and reassuring the survivor that they are not responsible for what happened, you can help to ease these diffcult emotions.
Examples of validating statements:
- “I believe you.”
- “This is not your fault.”
- "You are not alone."
- "I'm so sorry you've experienced this."
- “You deserve to feel safe and respected.”
- "Thank you for telling me."
- "I don't know what to say, but I am glad you told me."
These conversations can be very difficult. Allow room for space and silence. Go at the survivor’s pace.
Many traumas are rooted in an abuse of power and control. After such incidents, it is common for people to feel as though their power has been taken away from them. Encourage personal agency by reaffirming that the survivor knows their situation and needs best. Additionally, you can help the survivor to identify areas of their life in which they can regain some of their control. Point out the survivor’s strengths.
Check in to see if the survivor is feeling safe. If it is appropriate, help them think of a safety plan to avoid further harm. Having a plan in place can help to alleviate some of the survivor’s anxiety, as well as increase their feeling of regaining control.
It’s okay not to have all of the answers. There are community resources that can provide specialized care, and you can refer survivors to these services. Helping the survivor sort through resources in small pieces can make the process less overwhelming. CASAS is Western’s trauma-informed, confidential survivor advocacy service. They can be reached at 360-650-3700. CASAS advocates are confidential employees and are not required to report. DVSAS is the community survivor advocacy service. They can be reached at 360-715-1563.
Respect the Survivor’s Choices
Set aside your own feelings about how you would handle the situation, and instead acknowledge the validity of the survivor’s decisions. Everyone responds to trauma differently, and the survivor is the expert of their own situation.
Take Care of Yourself
Hearing about someone else’s trauma can be distressing or even triggering. Remember to take some time to breathe, process your own emotions, and practice self-care. Grounding your own emotions will also help you maintain a more calming presence when supporting others. Respect your own health by only performing tasks that you are comfortable with.