Supportive Listening for Parents, Friends, and Loved Ones

Supportive Listening – Understanding How to Support a Survivor in Your Life

Remember that your role is to provide support, not therapy.

Key Things to Do When Listening:

  1. Active Listening- Practice being silent when others are speaking, and taking in the words they are saying. Make sure you can mentally summarize what they said and say it back to them to show that you were paying attention to the details.
  2. Let the survivor speak as much or as little as they want. Listen carefully and patiently. Don’t press for details.
  3. Remind them that they are not to blame or at fault.
  4. Tell them that you believe them and that they can count on your support.

Key Things to Not to Do when Listening:

  1. Don’t ask them what they were wearing. Nudity does not equal consent.
  2. Don’t blame them.
  3. Don’t tell them they should have known better.
  4. Don’t say they shouldn’t have gotten that wasted or taken drugs. Someone can’t give consent if inebriated.
  5. Be mindful of what emotions you express… Although you may be filled with anger or rage about what happened, realize that this is about them not you.
  6. Do not make promises about the perpetrator going to jail. The court processes can take a long time: it’s a process that you cannot predict or control.

Since you will be listening and responding to potentially painful information, it’s important for you to take care of yourself. WOAR is here to support you as well. Please call our hotline (215) 985-3333 if you are in need.

Understanding Survivors’ Emotions and Decisions–

Victims/survivors may experience a roller coaster of emotions: sadness, anger, avoidance, numbness/withdrawal, anxiety, or a combination. Your role is to meet them where they are and not assume based on how they look that you know how they are feeling. For instance, don’t assume that because the survivor isn’t crying or visibly upset, that emotional distress or pain is absent. Ask them how they are doing and be patient. If they don’t want to talk about what happened don’t force them. Sexual violence is about control. The key to helping someone afterward is providing them the space to have autonomy over all decisions for themselves.

Furthermore, we always encourage survivors to experience personal control through choices and their own decision-making. It is their decision to receive therapy or report.

Reminder: It is not uncommon for the survivor to know the perpetrator: a family member, friend, a date, or a lover. This often creates mixed emotions on the survivor’s part, so be careful. In general, we think it’s okay to condemn the perpetrator’s behavior, but not to condemn the person. The survivor will need to sort out their feelings toward the person. This takes time, and sometimes professional help is useful.

Relationships & Intimacy

Be patient. A survivor may not feel comfortable with sex or emotional intimacy for a long time. Some sexual acts may remind them of the attack. They may experience a decreased interest in sex. Honest, caring communication is important. Let the survivor know that you are there when they are ready: one step at a time. You can consider couple’s counseling to better understand how sexual violence is impacting your relationship and how to better support one another.

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