Responding to a person's disclosure with compassion, validation, and support can be an important step for a survivor healing from trauma. There are many different ways people like to receive support and it is necessary to find out what feels best for the individual you are supporting. Do they want to talk? Do they want resources? Do they want to be distracted? Is it helpful to offer hugs? Is it helpful to share your own experiences? Before engaging with any of these options, determine which (if any) will work for the person.
At OSAPR, we recognize that supporting survivors confronts widely-held attitudes that cast doubt on people who come forward. As a result, supporting survivors is integral to preventing future incidents of harm. By supporting a survivor, we can validate that what has happened to them is not okay and not their fault. This validation also sends a message to the larger community that these types of incidents are harmful and may have consequences, thus creating less and less room for them to occur.
What can I do?
A Survivor-centered response describes our individual actions to support survivors and recognize our role in confronting rape culture.
- Believe - Survivors often worry that they will not be believed or that they will be judged. How you respond matters.
- Listen - Some survivors will want to talk right away, and others will need time. Let them talk when they're ready and let them decide what steps are right for them.
- Get Informed - Learn more about the spectrum of violence and support resources. If you know more, you can better understand and support the survivor.
- Take Care of Yourself - To better help a survivor, take care of yourself and your feelings.
Be Aware of How You are Affected - Vicarious Trauma, sometimes refered to as Secondary Trauma, is the transference of trauma from the person who has experienced an incident (or incidents) to the person hearing the disclosure. Vicarious trauma is common in professionals, but also occurs among friends and family members offering support to surivors. Symptoms of vicarious trauma may include similar symptons experienced by those with primary trauma - includng, but not limited to fatigue, anxiety, depression, and fear. Vicarious trauma may also result in compassion fatigue, or feeling like you are low on empathy for someone (or all) situations you encounter that feel less 'serious' than the trauma you have seen or heard.
If you are concerned about supporting a survivor, want more resources or support or are possibly experiencing vicarious trauma, please feel free to reach out to our direct service team: 617-496-5636 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about how to be part of a community supporting survivors and working toward prevention, read about getting involved.