How to Help a Friend or Family Member

This page offers information for friends or family members of survivors, also known as secondary survivors or co-survivors. Thank you for caring and seeking help!

It can be a very difficult experience when someone discloses a sexual assault or rape. However, knowing how you can be supportive can be critical in a survivor’s healing process. The key to helping a friend or someone you know who has been sexually assaulted is to be informed on how you can support the survivor and the importance of taking care of yourself.

What Should I Do (and Not Do)?

Do…

Start by believing the survivor.

  • Make the environment comfortable.
  • Acknowledge that revealing this personal and devastating experience takes a great deal of strength and courage. Remember that NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ASSAULTED. Remind the survivor that the assault was not their fault and they did not do anything to “cause” it.


Be a good listener.
Recovering from a sexual assault can take a long time. The survivor may need your support now and in the future. Let the survivor choose when they want to talk and how much they want to share. Sometimes the survivor may not want to talk at all. When the survivor does choose to talk to you, the following are things to keep in mind.

Allow them to talk as much or as little as they need.

  • DO concentrate on understanding the survivor’s feelings
  • DO allow silences
  • DO let the survivor know you are glad they told you
  • DON’T interrogate or ask for specific details about the sexual assault
  • DON’T ask “why” questions such as “why did you go there?”, “are you sure?” or “why didn’t you scream?”
  • DON’T tell them what you would have done or what they should have done or what you think they NEED to do now.


Encourage the survivor to seek counseling and post-trauma services.

Find your own support. As a secondary survivor, you may also be affected. If you would like to speak with someone on campus about being a secondary survivor, contact the RSVP advocate Caron Hope at 706-542-706-542-SAFE (7233), or CAPS.

Be willing to say nothing. If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. The most powerful statement a friend can make is by simply being there, not trying to fix everything or pretending it’s okay. Silence often says more than words.


Don’t…

Assume he/she does/does not want to be touched. Some people can’t stand a hug at this point. Others can’t make it without one.

Try to solve all of their problems for them. They have had their control taken away. Try to avoid doing that again.

Assume you know how the survivor feels. Making statements such as “it’s ok” or “you’re going to be fine” may serve to minimize the survivor’s feelings and downplay the seriousness of the violence.

Allow myths to affect how you perceive the survivor.

What Do I Say?

It can be hard to know what to do to help a friend or family member who is a survivor of sexual violence.

What to say to a survivor:

  • I’m sorry this happened to you.
  • I’m concerned about you.
  • It wasn’t your fault.
  • Thank you for telling me.
  • There are people who can help you.
  • Can I do anything for you?



What NEVER to say to a survivor:

  • It was your fault.
  • You could have avoided it had you ______.
  • It’s been so long! Get over it!
  • You wanted it. / You were asking for it.
  • I don’t believe you.
  • It’s not that big of deal; it happens to lots of people.