three students walking
How can I help a friend or peer who has experience sexual or relationship violence?

Whether the assault was recent or many years ago, the support and understanding of friends and loved ones can be the most helpful thing to a survivor. Many survivors say the response they receive when they first disclose to someone made all the difference in their holistic safety and healing process. There are many ways you can support a survivor.

Listen, Believe & Validate

Listen patiently and empathically, without judgement. Tell them you believe them and thank them for trusting you with their story. When we begin by believing, it is the first step to healing.

It is never their fault

Let them know sexual abuse or assault is never the survivor’s fault. Blame belongs with one person, the one who perpetrated the assault. 

Do not try and “fix” it

It is hard to watch someone we know and love go through something hard but it is not our role to fix things or offer advice. Our role is to listen and follow the survivor’s lead as to how they want to be supported and what they want to do moving forward.

Discuss their safety and support their decisions

Let them know there are options for support, medical care and reporting. If they are an adult, the decision is theirs to report the assault, seek medical attention, or connect with a crisis center. Support their decisions and support them if they change their mind. Ask the survivor how you can help before doing anything. It is important they be in control of next steps. 

Be careful about touching

You may want to reach out and put a hand on the survivor’s shoulder but this is an especially vulnerable time for a survivor, so ask before any physical touch and respect their answer. Even outside of a disclosure of sexual violence, it is always important to ask someone before touching them because practicing consent is essential in all aspects of our relationships. 

Remind your friend you care and they are not alone

Sometimes individuals may worry they will be thought of or treated differently by others after a disclosure. Let your friend know that is not the case and you are available to help.

Maintain their privacy

It takes courage to disclose. The survivor has entrusted you and telling others could cause more harm. Tell the survivor they can speak in confidence to a counselor on campus or an advocate at The Compass Center for confidential support and information on how to help.

Take care of yourself

Check-in with yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frightened by a situation, get help for yourself. Find someone you can talk to about those feelings. 

Phrases You Can Use to Help

“I hear you.”
“I believe you.”
“Thank you for trusting me with your story.”
“It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
“I’m glad you told me what you’re going through.”
“Nothing you did (or didn’t do) makes you deserve this.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“You didn’t ask for this, and you don’t deserve this.”
“I’m sorry this happened.”
“If you would like a hug, I am here.”
“How can I help you feel safer?”
“I’ll support your decisions.”
“You’re not alone.”
“I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”

Resources on this page are adapted from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. For more resources and information, visit our Get Help page.