Many survivors share their experience with someone else, often a friend or partner. In these times it is your role to listen, believe, and support. The following information can be helpful as you offer support to a friend or partner.
Listen and support
It’s hard to know what to say or do when a friend or partner tells you they have experienced interpersonal violence. Try to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment, emotional support, and space for the survivor to share their feelings. Let them know they can talk with you at their own pace; listen and don’t rush to provide solutions.
One way that you can be helpful to your friend or partner is to aid in identifying ways that they can feel safe physically and emotionally. This may be asking what they need to feel safe in the moment, or establishing practices or boundaries in communication, touch, and physical space. If they are currently experiencing interpersonal violence, this could look like helping them to create a plan for what to do if they feel unsafe or are in immediate danger.
Interpersonal violence is never the survivor’s fault. Let the survivor know that the only person responsible for what happened is the person who chose to hurt them. It can be hard to hear that someone we care about has experienced violence and we may have a strong emotional response, maybe even feeling angry. It’s important to manage our own emotional responses and ensure that we are concentrating on the needs and emotions of the survivor rather than of ourselves. Survivors are coping with a lot without having to manage our emotional responses as well. If you do notice you are having a strong emotional response, be sure to let the survivor know your feelings are not directed at them as an individual and are related to the circumstances of what happened.
Don’t pressure the survivor for more details. Let them decide when and how much they wish to share with you. This may mean your understanding of their experience changes over time as they feel safe enough to tell you more. You do not need to know everything that happened to be able to offer support. Ask them what they need from you, and let them take the lead. They may have a difficult time making decisions about what to do. Let them make their own decisions to reduce any feelings of powerlessness they may be experiencing. Survivors won’t "just forget it" or "move on." Recovery and healing from interpersonal violence is a long-term and non-linear process. Everyone moves at their own pace.
You can be supportive by helping your friend or partner identify the options and resources available to them, and by encouraging them to access the services that feel best for them. It is important to support their process and choices, even if they are different than yours or what you think yours would be.
Respect their privacy
Your friend or partner shared their experience with you because they trust you and felt you were a safe person to share this with. Respect this trust by not sharing their experience with others. Let the survivor decide who and when to tell; remember: it is their story to tell, not yours. If it is important for your friend or partner’s safety that information is shared, let them know what information you will be sharing and with whom. Don’t confront the person who harmed your friend/partner. Though you may want them to know that what they did was wrong or stop them from harming anyone else, this can make things worse for you or the survivor.