This post is meant for adults who have been abused in the past. If someone is a minor or is currently being abused, they need help immediately. http://rain.org has great resources on how to help. Their hotline is available 24/7 at 800.656.4673.
When a survivor is telling you their story, they are letting you in on a very private part of their life. It’s an incredibly vulnerable and hard thing to share. It’s also a hard thing to hear and often hard to know how to respond appropriately. I’ve recieved some hurtful responses by well-meaning people who just had a lack of understanding on this subject. Here are some of my insights on helpful responses.
1. Just listen.
Let them lead the conversation and reveal the details they are comfortable with sharing. It’s human nature to want to know all the details, but don’t ask for them. When a survivor is telling you any part of their story they are reliving a very traumatic event. The most helpful response is listening without prying.
2. Tell them you believe them.
If someone says they have been a victim, just believe them. The majority of victims truly have nothing to gain by opening up and, for most, it’s an embarrassing and shameful thing to admit. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, false reporting on sexual assault is between 2% and 10%. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted and every 11 minutes, that victim is a child. Please just believe them.
3. Ask them how you can support them.
Everyone feels supported differently and by simply asking that question, they can share how they want to be supported. A few of the ways I’ve felt most supported have been a simple “Thank you for sharing” or “How can I pray for you?” Encouraging words go along way and have made me feel heard, believed, and cared for.