Supporting a Complainant

When you learn that someone you know has experienced sexual assault, relationship violence or stalking, it may be hard to know what to say. The following suggestions will not “fix” the pain or make the trauma disappear, but if you react/act in a supportive way you can help them feel less isolated and safer.

  • Listen. Letting a victim/survivor speak and direct the conversation can help them regain a sense of control. Let them decide what they want to talk about and when they want to talk about it.
  • Believe them. Our culture makes it very difficult to talk about sexual assault, and the fear of not being believed is a very real concern for people who have been assaulted. Don’t contribute to that fear.
  • Assure the victim/survivor that they are not to blame for the assault, no matter what the circumstances of the assault were.
  • Do not judge how the victim/survivor reacted during or after the assault — whether they fought back or not, how long they waited to ask you for help, etc. Understand that they handled the situation the best they could.
  • Be mindful when asking questions about the assault so that you do not seem judgmental, condescending or otherwise unsupportive.
  • Be supportive of the victim/survivor decisions. Victims/survivors have a number of options and resources that may seem overwhelming. Whether or not they report the assault, press charges, attend counseling, etc., is not up to you. It is important and empowering for the victim/survivor to make their own decisions about how to proceed after an assault. But, don’t be entirely uninvolved — they might ask for your opinion or advice, and some gentle encouragement to seek both medical and emotional help can be positive.
  • Be respectful of the victim/survivor.
  • Resist seeing the victim/survivor as a victim. You need to continue to see them as strong and courageous. After all, talking about a sexual assault is strong and courageous. It is important that you help the victim/survivor feel empowered and in control, which is more difficult if you don’t believe it yourself.
  • Accept that there might be changes in the victim/survivor’s personality or in your relationship. Sexual assault is a very traumatic experience that can change a person, and the healing process takes time.
  • Be aware that you might need support as well. The assault of someone you know and care for might make you feel anger, guilt, sadness and/or many other emotions. Take care of yourself and address your feelings as well, but be careful not to overwhelm the victim/survivor with your own emotions. If you seek support from someone, be sure to maintain the victim/survivor’s anonymity.