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Supporting a Survivor

Woman on Window Sill

Knowing what to say to someone who may be experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault can be overwhelming and downright scary. Though it may be tough, you can still be of some help.

The most important thing to remember is that

you don’t need to be an expert

— you need to be a friend.

In addition to the info below, the national hotlines offer free, confidential services to anyone who has been affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, including friends and families.

The only way to be sure there is a problem is to ask which might feel like an extremely hard thing to do, but there are things you can do to make it easier. 

  • You may be worried that the person experiencing the violence will get angry, upset or won’t want to talk. This may be the case, but often people are glad to be able to talk about what is happening.

  • Pick a quiet time to talk, when the violence isn’t happening.

  • Let the person talk at their own pace, don’t push them to say more than they feel ready to. 

  • Most of us instinctually want to fix a problem or rescue the person being hurt. If the person you are talking to doesn’t react in the way you hoped, don’t take it personally. Let it go for now, but let them know you are there if they need you.

  • It’s better to talk to them about the things you’ve noticed that make you worried, than to give your opinion.

You can try some questions like:

  • I'm wondering if everything is OK at home?

  • I noticed you have some bruises. How did that happen? Did someone do that to you?

  • I've noticed you seem frightened by your partner [or other person you suspect is hurting them]. Is that right? Is everything OK?

Give them the chance to speak in private. Be prepared to listen, but don’t force them to speak if they are not ready.

How to respond

  • Listen without judgement

  • Let them know that you believe them

  • Ask what more you can do to help

  • Support their decisions

  • Guide them to a specialist domestic violence support service or if needed, medical attention.

  • Help them make a safety plan.

  • Help them find a safe place.

  • Ask before you touch

  • Take care of yourself too. Make sure you seek support and help if you are feeling overwhelmed.

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