It can be difficult to know what to say when a loved one, a family member, or a friend shares that they have experienced some form of interpersonal violence. You can support them by being BRAVE.
Believe them. Survivors often fear that others will not believe them or will view their experience as not important. Accept what you hear. And, remember everyone responds differently to trauma. Some people may appear calm and collected, while others may appear extremely emotional; both extremes are natural.
Respect them. You can respect a survivor just by listening to them. When an individual experiences an incidence of interpersonal violence, their power and their voice have been violated. Allowing the person to share their experience at their own speed, or maybe just sitting silently with them, can be empowering for the survivor.
Ask them if they want to report the assault. Reporting an assault does not necessarily mean pressing charges – that decision is made later, but it is important to collect evidence to keep that option open. If the survivor was sexually assaulted obtaining a post-assault examination through the 24-hour SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) is highly recommended. Remember it is important to allow the survivor to make the decisions. For more information about reporting to click here.
Value them. Don’t judge them. Avoid saying things like, “Why did you go there?”, or “Why did you do that?”.
Encourage them. You encourage the survivor by creating a safe environment for them, by offering them options, and encourage them to get the support they need from local resources.
If you have any questions on how to assist a friend who is a survivor of sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking, please contact VPAC.
Extra tips on how to help a friend in an abusive relationship…
- Don’t be afraid to tell your friend that you’re concerned. You can point out that the behavior is not normal and that he/she deserves a healthy relationship.
- Refer him/her to resources that can assist in developing a safety plan, such as the Violence Prevention and Action Center or the Domestic Violence Center.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t ask questions like, “Why don’t you just break up?” Respect your friend’s decision to stay or to leave. Many individuals leave and return to abusive relationships multiple times. It is important to support him/her regardless of what you think is best.
It’s important to remember that hearing that someone you care about is a survivor of interpersonal violence can be traumatic for you. It can be normal to experience anger, fear, and sadness. Practicing self-care can be an important tool for your own wellness. For more information, visit the RAINN website.