What Do I Say? How to Support Survivors

The 2017–18 Youth Leadership Corps (YLC) facilitating a workshop on how to help a friend.

The 2017–18 Youth Leadership Corps (YLC) facilitating a workshop on how to help a friend.

The first time disclosing — the term we use for telling a friend, family member, or doctor that someone assaulted you — is a big deal. How that person responds can significantly influence whether a survivor seeks further services: poor responses can retraumatize a person and delay their journey to healing.

That’s the thinking behind the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s Responding to Disclosures training. The training is mainly for providers like doctors, mental health professionals, nurses, and others, but has also been adapted for folks outside of the provider role.

“We know that how people respond to those first disclosures can make a huge difference for someone’s healing path and whether they seek further help,” said Eliza Campbell, BARCC’s community engagement specialist. “Supporting survivors is also prevention, because it’s creating an environment where it’s okay for people to disclose and seek help.”

In the Responding to Disclosures training, BARCC staff and volunteers have participants think about their own experiences in crises. What were you feeling? How did other people respond? What was helpful, and what upset you?

Eliza said the training usually reminds people of things they might already know, such as not to tell a survivor what they “should” do or offering unsolicited advice when a survivor is looking for support. Instead, provide options and enough information for the survivor to make an informed decision.

Community Awareness and Prevention Services (CAPS) Coordinator Sharon Schiffer said the training also teaches intangible skills: things like talking a survivor through a moment, grounding them, and making sure they feel as safe as possible. Eliza said the basic pillars of the training are listening more than speaking and not trying to solve the survivors’ problems.

Ashley Slay, BARCC’s youth clinical outreach coordinator, adapted the Responding to Disclosures training for the Youth Leadership Corps (YLC). The peer-to-peer workshop, often led by members of the YLC, is called How to Help a Friend.

“We know young people go to their friends first,” said Ashley of the training. “Your initial role is to believe and support that person as a friend. You don’t have to be the person to counsel them, you can redirect them to a professional.”

Support a survivor with the SEEK model:

  • Safety: ensure that the survivor is safe. Help them address their physical, emotional, and privacy concerns.
  • Empower the survivor: let them speak, respect their decisions, and help them understand their emotions and options.
  • Empathize with the survivor: believe them, put yourself in their shoes, and try to validate them.
  • Know your role: use what tools you have available, offer referrals to BARCC and other resources, and be prepared for a disclosure.
  • Read even more tips on how to support a survivor in your life.

Learn more about BARCC trainings, or sign up for the Responding to Disclosures public workshop on June 18.

Originally published at barcc.org.