University of Wisconsin–Madison

I Want to Support Someone

We Care at Wisconsin
At UW-Madison, we care about those who have been impacted by sexual violence, including supportive loved ones – family, friends, significant others, coworkers, and so on. Showing your support for someone who is going through the difficult aftermath of sexual violence can be vital to their well-being. Your support and encouragement can make all the difference, but it’s not always easy. To help, we have included information on useful ways to support a survivor of sexual violence.

If you are a parent or family member of a student who has been impacted by sexual violence in some way, some of the best ways you can support a fellow family member is by encouraging them to utilize campus resources that best fit their current needs. Please refer to the side bar to review confidential vs. non-confidential resources.

Listen and Believe
When the victim initially shares their experience with you, really listen. You should never interrupt to question or blame them – no matter the circumstances, they did not ask to be a victim of any type of sexual violence. Unfortunately, it is very common for victims to blame themselves; however, the blame for sexual violence rests only with the perpetrator.

Respect the Victim & Avoid Judgment
It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of trauma for an extended period of time after the incident(s) occurred. Keep in mind that just because the event may have happened a long time ago, that doesn’t always mean the pain is easy to take away. Respect the fact that even after the events are over, victims can still be afraid and fearful, especially if the perpetrator threatened to harm them. You can help survivors deal with their anxiety by finding ways to increase their safety – including letting them know that they are safe when they are with you.

Accept and Support the Victim’s Feelings
No matter what the time frame is after the incident(s) have occurred, accept that the survivor may have strong feelings regarding their situation. Try to remember that they do have the right to their own emotions – it is common for them to feel disoriented, sad, angry, in denial, frightened, depressed, nervous, or withdrawn. Be considerate of this difficult time they are going through by being supportive and accepting of their feelings. Of course, it is also beneficial to provide an atmosphere of safety and care, ultimately helping build up their trust again.

Understand and Support
Listening to a victim explain the details of the incident can be difficult, but it is especially important to listen and try to understand what they are going through. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Do not interrupt – let them tell the entire story without interjecting.
  • Ask the victim if there is anything they need from you specifically in terms of support.
  • Engage with them by making frequent eye contact. Reassure them that they should not blame themselves for the incident.

Supporting Their Recovery Process
Being a victim of any form of sexual violence can be a devastating and detrimental experience for an extended period of time. Keep in mind that recovery, done the right way, takes time. Encourage the victim to set aside time for themselves to go through the healing process. Whether they do this alone or with someone else by their side, it is crucial that they are well-supported through this time. If the survivor chooses that they want someone around to help them through this, stay with the them as long as they want you to. Many victims of sexual violence feel uneasy and anxious when they are alone, but this typically passes with time.

Be Patient
As mentioned in the previous section, the recovery process takes time – and everyone is different in regards to how long they need. The worst thing you can do is pressure them into making decisions, especially ones they may not be ready to make. Do your best to be patient and let them take their own decisions on their own time.

Reporting
After listening to the victim’s story, feel free to help them explore different reporting options, but always respect their privacy and confidentiality. If you are not required to report incidents of sexual violence at the University, then it may be beneficial to support the survivor in determining whom exactly to tell about the sexual violence. Keep in mind, however, that faculty and/or staff who are made aware of the sexual violence incident(s) have reporting obligations.

Care
It can be difficult to watch someone you care about go through such a difficult time. Sometimes, their emotions can rub off on you – and as a result, you may be dealing with some challenging feelings of your own. If you find yourself feeling angry or anxious about the situation, you can access resources to help you process everything properly. We recommend visiting University Health Services.