How To Support Survivors

It can be difficult to know what to say or how to support someone who has experienced harassment or assault. If someone tells you that they have, realize it took a lot of courage for them to talk to you. Below is a list of suggestions of what you can say or do to help someone recovering from abuse. Everyone is different in how they recover, so it’s important to give them options and not to set timelines.

Immediately After

  • Always start by believing! It is rare for someone to lie about abuse. That person has much more to lose than they have to gain by speaking out.
  • If the person is a child, you need to report to authorities. If the person is an adult, you should support them in whatever they are comfortable reporting.
  • Sexual assault is extremely violating. Some people may want a hug, others may be too overwhelmed by physical contact. Do not take it personally if they don’t want physical contact from you.
  • Make sure they are in a safe place.
  • Ask if you can check-in on them, how and how often.
  1. I believe you
  2. This was not your fault
  3. No one deserves this
  4. You are not alone
  5. I’m here for you
  6. What can I do to help?
  1. Did you say no/fight back?
  2. Why were you alone with them?
  3. Were you drinking?
  4. It’s not so bad
  5. You need to get over it
  6. Ask for more details

Shortly After

  • Check-in on them to see how they are doing and what you can do to help.
  • Reassure them that they did not deserve this and it’s not their fault.
  • Remind them they are not alone.
  • Be willing to listen without judgement. They may want to repeatedly discuss what happened in an effort to process and understand. They may choose not to share everything at once and gradually tell you more as they become more comfortable.
  • Continue to support them in their choice of who to tell and when.
  • Assist them in finding the resources they need. This may be doing research on crisis response centers or accompanying them to appointments or police interviews.
  • Help them stay separated from their abuser. If separation is not possible, make sure you are always with them in group settings as another set of eyes and ears and possible intervention if necessary.

Long Term

  • Support them in finding professional help. It can be overwhelming for someone to do all the work on their own. You can help by researching local therapists and support groups and compiling information you find.
  • Validate their feelings. Keep reminding them it’s not their fault. Their recovery will be filled with lots of ups and downs, good days and bad days. They may not understand why they are feeling certain ways.
  • Offer to join them in activities outside of BJJ. Everyone is different. Some may not want to be out in public, others may only want to be in public. It’s important they know you are there for them outside of BJJ and they are still able to maintain social connections outside of the gym.
  • Be willing to just be a physical presence with them. Trauma is taxing physically, emotionally, and mentally. They may not have the energy to socialize. Be willing to sit and watch a movie or do another quiet activity together.
  • Create a discrete way they can signal for help. Maybe this is a text message they can send to signal they need someone to be with them. This also could be a hand signal for while in a group or in BJJ class that they need a break and could use your support.
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep. Be realistic in the support you can provide.
  • Support their timeline for recovery. There is no set timeline for everyone. It may be months or years before they feel ready to do the things they used to.
  • Ask, and don’t assume, what they need.
  • Take care of yourself. Trauma to someone you care about can be traumatic for you as well. Be sure you are seeking help for yourself too if you need it.