How to Support a Family Member or Friend Who is a Survivor

June 25, 2017

When someone you care about confides in you that they have experienced rape or sexual abuse, it can be a challenging conversation. You may feel that you want to help them, but maybe aren’t sure how, or what to say.

Below are eight suggestions for ways to support a friend or family member who is a survivor of rape or sexual abuse.

1. Understand that both rape or sexual abuse survivors and perpetrators can be any gender.

Survivors are not just women and perpetrators are not just men. So if your loved one confides in you about their rape or sexual abuse, rather than question whether or not it happened because of their or the perpetrator’s gender identity, focus on being supportive.

Consider saying:

  • “I believe you”
  • “You are not alone”
  • “This doesn’t change how I think of you”

2. Don’t push your loved one to report, get a medical exam, or see a therapist, if it’s not the right time for them.

Your loved one has had a traumatic experience that makes them feel powerless. Insisting they do one thing or another will make them feel even more like they don’t have control. Instead, help them understand the options they have and support the decision they make as the right thing for them at that moment.

Consider saying:

  • “Are you open to seeking medical attention?”
  • “Are you considering reporting?”
  • “Have you thought about learning about your legal options?”
  • “Have you thought about reaching out to a hotline or a therapist for help thinking through your options?”

3. Simply listen, without judgment or expectations.

Listen with the intention of listening. What your loved one may need now more than ever is someone to simply listen and validate what they’re experiencing.

Consider saying:

  • “I’m so sorry that this happened to you”
  • “I’m here for you”
  • “You can tell me as much or as little as you are comfortable”

4. Remind them it wasn’t their fault.

Many survivors can place the blame on themselves. Remind them that they did nothing wrong and that it is the perpetrator that is to blame. It is never the survivor’s fault that this happened to them.

Consider saying:

  • “It’s not your fault”

5. Let them share as much or as little detail as they are comfortable sharing.

They may tell you on their own time if they want to. It doesn’t matter who it was or where it happened or what exactly happened. You don’t have to know every detail to be able to support and assist your loved one.

Consider saying:

  • “You can tell me however much or little you want”
  • “I’m sorry this happened”

6. Understand that there is no right or wrong way to respond to trauma.

Everyone reacts to trauma in their own way. Your loved one may want to talk about it or may not. Any response is appropriate.

7. Ask them what you can do to help.

They might just need your company. They might want you to accompany them to the hospital or police station. Let them know that you are open to helping them in whatever way they need.

Consider saying:

  • “I am here for you and want to help in any way you are comfortable with.”

8. Practice self-care.

It can be hard and emotionally stressful to provide support to your loved one. In order to both help them and yourself the best you can, make sure to take care of yourself as needed.

Things to consider:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Contact a hotline yourself to learn about options, or just process the situation with someone supportive
  • Seek counseling yourself.  Cleveland Rape Crisis Center offers counseling for loved ones of survivors as well in addition to survivors themselves.

How to Access Help

We’re here for you.  Text or call the Crisis and Support Hotline anytime of the day or night at (216) 619-6192 or (440) 423-2020, or chat online. Make an appointment with a counselor or victim advocate: call (216) 619-6194 ext. 141 or request an appointment online.


Everyday Feminism for a more detailed list and resources RAINN provides explanations for ways to respond to a survivor