When a person decides to start talking about their experiences of gender-based violence, they often begin by going to a trusted friend. We all need to be ready to believe survivors and offer appropriate support.
Simply listening is enough. Believe their experience – you are not required to verify the facts, and asking questions like “are you sure?” or “what happened then?” may cause your friend, colleague or family member to withdraw and cease seeking help.
Validate their experience
“That sounds very difficult . . . “
“If I were in your place, I might feel the same.”
Gently push back against internalized victim blaming, e.g. “It’s not your fault.” “Whatever choices you made, one of them wasn’t to get assaulted. It was his choice to hurt you.”
Avoid offering false comfort, e.g avoid assurances such as “It’s going to be ok”
Check current safety/risk levels
Is the harmful behaviour happening currently? If so, let the person know that the organizations listed in the community resource sheets below can help them make a safety plan immediately while they decide what to do next.
Accompany them on their next step
Accompaniment means walking with the person while supporting their decisions (not advocating for your opinion or giving advice), e.g. “If you like, I can be your sounding board while you decide what to do about this. I will respect whatever you choose to do next.”
If you have a duty to report (this should not be a surprise – your duty to report should be made clear earlier in the relationship), offer some options about how to do it, e.g. “I can write a report and you look it over before I submit it.” Or “I can make the call while you sit here and listen.” Or “I can support you to report the abuse yourself.”
Ask if they are aware of community resources that support people in this kind of situation. The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women lists resources for women and gender non-conforming folks who are dealing with gender-based violence (or download the community resource sheet here). You can download a community resource sheet for men affected by sexual violence or abuse.
You might offer to walk with them to an appointment, accompany them while they make a phone call, etc.