Supporting a Survivor

Often the first person a survivor discloses to is a friend, family member, loved one, or peer.  The following are supportive ways to respond to someone who's disclosed that they are a survivor of sexual misconduct. If you are a responsible employee (mandatory reporter), please visit the Mandatory Reporters page for additional information on reporting responsibiltiies.                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Say Thank You 

Disclosing can be scary. It is important to acknowledge the person's willingness and vulnerability to share with you. Things you can say are “thank you for trusting me” and “thank you for sharing with me.” 

Mirror Language  

The fear of not being believed is a real concern for people who have experienced an assault or interpersonal violence.  Mirror the language of the person disclosing to you. If they label their experience as “harassment,” it can be harmful to use another word like “flirting.” Similarly, asking certain types of questions about the situation (i.e. "why" questions) may be viewed as judgmental, disbelief, or victim-blaming.  

Empathic Listening 

Pay attention to the person speaking and respond with compassion, feeling, and insight. Listen nonjudgmentally. Try these tips to practice empathetic listening: 

  • Let the person guide the conversation and choose what they’d like to talk about. 
  • Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. 
  • Acknowledge and validate the other person’s perspective. 
  • Be aware of your biases and attitudes. 
  • Pay attention to the person’s verbal and nonverbal cues.
Questions to Ask What to Say What Not to Say

• Are you safe? 

• How are you feeling? 

• What can I do to help? 

• What kind of support do you need? 

• How are you doing in classes/at work? 

• Do you have friends/family/ 

loved ones who are supporting you? 

 

• Thank you for sharing this with me. 

• This sounds upsetting/difficult/hard. 

• I hear you. 

• I see that you’re feeling... 

• You are not alone. 

• I’m here for you. 

• I care about you and your experience. 

 

• Questions about the incident or investigation. 

• Questioning the validity of the person’s experience. 

• Why/how did this happen? 

• Promising outcomes. 

• Promising accommodations that are out of your control. 

• Sharing information related to the incident with other parties. 

• Placing blame. 

Be Vulnerable and Transparent 

Transparency is important. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question, or you’re not sure what to do. If the person is comfortable doing so, offer to look for the answers together.    

Offer Resources and Make Referrals 

UT Austin and the greater Austin community have many confidential and non-confidential services available to students and employees.  Talk through the options together, and if possible, help the person make contact with the resources. For more information, visit the Campus Resources page and/or the Community Resources page. 

Respect the Person's Decisions and Privacy

There is no wrong way for a person to react and process a traumatic experience.  It is important to empower a survivor to make their own decisions about what to do following an incident, including decisions about reporting and seeking help. The person's decision to report or seek support is the survivor’s alone, but your involvement can be encouraging and positive. Make sure to not share someone's story without their permission. 

Get Support for Yourself 

It is important to take care of your needs as well.  Supporting a survivor can take an emotional toll. Make sure you take the time to take care of yourself and process your feelings, but please be careful not to violate the survivor’s privacy or confidentiality.

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