A Guide For Supporters


How to Support a Survivor

Disclaimer: This guide is not intended to replace professional support, guidance, advice, or diagnosis.

Trigger warning: A trigger is a word or an event that can cause an action to take place. In this toolkit certain words can be triggering for survivors. Which means that reading those words or sentences can cause a survivor to either feel uncomfortable or anxious and might even take them back to an unpleasant memory. If while reading someone does experience this, it is best to do a quick grounding exercise.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Tell yourself that you are safe and you are ok. Use your breathing as an anchor to help bring you to the present moment. Do this as many times as you want to or at regular intervals. You don't need to go through this toolkit by yourself, sit with someone you trust and ask them to go through it with you.

If you are an ally of a survivor, then ensure that you are sensitive and observant to their needs and reactions. When they are sharing information with you, remain focused and do not interrupt. Also take their consent (permission) before comforting them physically, like giving them a hug. Be mindful not to hug them or make physical contact if they are sensitive or uncomfortable.

Here are some useful phrases from RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline staff that could help

“I believe you.” 

“It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”

Coming forward and sharing their story can be very difficult for survivors.
They may feel ashamed and worried that they won’t be believed.
Do not interrupt the survivor and ask questions. Just listen and support them in the best way you can. 

“It’s not your fault.” 

“You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

Survivors may blame themselves for the trauma. In such a situation remind the survivor that it is not their fault and that they are not to blame.

“You are not alone.” 

“I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”

Survivors may feel alone and not understood. They may struggle with opening up and seeking help.

If they are ready to share, listen to their story and make them feel comfortable. Let them know that they can trust you and turn to you for help and support.

“I’m sorry this happened.”

“I’m sorry you had to go through this.” 

The traumatic experience the survivor has faced is life-changing and may influence  their ability to function. When you are listening to them or supporting them be mindful of their comfort and be non-judgmental. Empathise with them, be genuine, and let them know you are there for them.

Signs They May Need Your Help

Look out for signs of:

  • Prolonged sadness or moodiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Issues sleeping and eating
  • Depression
  • Withdrawing from activities they usually enjoy and life
  • Drastic changes in personality or appearance
  • Engaging in self harm 
  • If a survivor confides in you about feeling suicidal or preparing to take their life, then immediately encourage them to seek professional help or alert someone who can help and ensure they are taken care of