Many find it difficult to tell someone about the harm they experienced. Telling you is likely a sign that they find you safe and trustworthy. Whether someone experienced harm recently or many years ago, how you respond to their disclosure matters. In fact, the reaction of the first person a survivor discloses to often determines how likely they are to tell someone else and get help.
Note that this guidance is for disclosures. If someone has not disclosed to you, please be mindful of their privacy.
You don’t need to have all the answers.
Instead, use your individual strengths and the “BEAVER” model.
Believe: It’s not your role to investigate. Instead, believe the survivor and assure them it was not their fault.
Empathize: Empathizing means feeling another person’s feelings. While you can never fully understand, it can be very reassuring for someone to try. Often when we are faced with uncomfortable emotions, we go into “fix it” mode or try to find the “silver lining.” However, that can feel invalidating. All that is needed is for you to show up and try to understand.
Actively Listen: Try to listen without thinking of what you will say next. This sounds simple, but it can be difficult in practice. It’s important to give your friend space to share but be careful not to pry— asking for information out of curiosity, or even concern, can actually be retraumatizing for the survivor.
Validate: There is no one right way to feel after experiencing harm. However they feel is valid, and you can affirm that as needed.
Empower: After an incident in which someone had control taken from them, it is important for them to have control in their own healing process. While it can be tempting to step in and “fix it,” it is important to let your friend make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. This includes respecting their privacy. Ask the individual how they want to be supported and be clear about your own boundaries and limitations.
Refer: While you may be a key part of their support network, connecting them to other resources may be helpful. Refer them to support, such as Violence Prevention and Response. With their permission, you can make an email introduction and/or walk with them to their appointment at our office.
Hearing about a traumatic incident and supporting someone can both be hard. Remember to take care of yourself and to ask for help if you need it. Violence Prevention and Response is a resource for you as well, so feel free to reach out if you need support.
For general tips about ways to support someone who has experienced harm, see the “responding to disclosures of harm” section above for important suggestions about offering support.
While supporting a partner can be similar to supporting anyone you care about, there are additional considerations when they are your romantic and/or sexual partner.
Delayed Disclosures: Many find it difficult to tell someone about the harm they experienced. It’s common for survivors to take some time before telling anyone. Remember that this is their information to share and the fact that they came to you is likely a sign that they find you safe and trustworthy.
Physical/Sexual Intimacy: Invite open dialogue with your partner about their boundaries and work to reinforce the importance of consent in your relationship. It’s important that both you and your partner feel safe and in control of your own bodies. Be sure to communicate how you are feeling.
Trauma-Informed Support: Everyone responds to harm differently. Ask your partner if there’s anything that triggers them, such as a scent, a specific physical act, or a location. Talk together about ways you can offer support if something brings up their experience.
Seek Support: It can be hard to hear about a traumatic incident that happened to someone you care about and to continually support that person. Remember to take care of yourself and to ask for help if you need it. Violence Prevention and Response is a resource for you as well, so feel free to reach out if you need support.
It can be painful to hear your child has experienced harm, and many find it difficult to tell their parents about the harm they experienced. You don’t need to have all the answers. Use your strengths as a parent and the “BEAVER” model above.
A few additional suggestions for parents include:
Trauma-Informed Support: Parents often feel that it’s their job to protect their children. This can lead to feelings of helplessness or even guilt when they have been hurt. While these feelings are normal, conversations with your child should center them and their need for support. For example, you might ask, “What do you need right now?” Everyone responds to harm differently; your child might make different choices then you would. Let them take the lead and support their decisions.
Seek Support: It can be difficult to hear about a traumatic incident from your child and to continuously support them. Remember to take care of yourself and to ask for help when you need it. Finding a space to process your own feelings and needs will allow you to center your child’s feelings and needs when you speak with them. Please let us know if you would like us to connect you with relevant resources.