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.