Our response to a survivor’s disclosure is an important part of their experience. Let them lead the conversation and share as much or as little information as they feel comfortable. You may be the first person they’ve told, and how you react matters. Think about your words. If you have a question, are you asking because it is necessary to learn the information or because you are curious? Focus on keeping the survivor’s feelings and concerns at the center of the conversation. Requesting more details may be triggering to a survivor, making them feel they have to explain themselves or justify their feelings.
What can I do?
Try not to introduce new words into the conversation; mirror the language the survivor is using. For example, if the survivor has not labeled their experience as sexual assault, it is important we do not label it for them. What words did the survivor use?
As the survivor shares their feelings about their experience with you, you can help normalize their reaction. There is no right way to feel or behave after an incident of sexual violence. Whatever their reaction, they deserve respect and validation.
What can I say?
Keep in mind that the following statements are suggestions, not scripts. It is important to find words that feel authentic to you. Listen to what the person has said and respond honestly, using the suggestions below to inform your response.
“Thank you for trusting and sharing with me.”
“I believe you.”
“No one should have to go through that. I’m sorry this happened.”
“How are you feeling right now?”
“You’ve mentioned X, Y, and Z. What is it helpful for you to talk about?”
“I noticed you started talking faster when you mentioned A. How do you feel about that right now?
“It’s understandable that it is difficult to make sense of what happened.”
“I believe that everyone deserves to have their boundaries respected, and that it’s not your fault if someone else makes decisions to cross that line.”
“It’s okay to feel [emotion they've shared].”