Most survivors of sexual violence tell at least one other person about the assault or abuse. So, what should you do if you happen to find yourself as that one person? Hearing about trauma and violence can be shocking and overwhelming. Still, it can be even more impactful when it is someone close to you, such as a friend or family member. It’s ok if you don’t know how to respond. However, it’s safe to say that a large portion of people would not know what to do, say, or how to act after disclosure of sexual violence by another person. Hopefully, we can offer some insight and recommendations if or when a friend comes to you with their traumatic experience.


Sometimes, the simplest act can prove to be the most difficult. Trust me, there are times that I listen to stories of severe sexual trauma, and my chest physically hurts with a client. When I first started working with sexual violence and abuse survivors, I didn’t always know what to say. It took some time to realize that I didn’t need to say or do anything right away. Listening is a powerful tool when someone is sharing such a vulnerable experience. Coming forward takes incredible courage, and providing a supportive environment that’s willing to simply listen can be invaluable.

Be Patient

Patience is an excellent follow-up to listening. It takes patience to be present and listen without asking questions or pushing for more details. When I came forward about my own experiences, the last thing I needed or wanted was probing for the details. So practice patience and meet the survivor where they are in that moment. Maybe they’ll share more later, or perhaps they won’t need to but recognize that any detail took a lot of bravery to share.

It’s Not Their Fault

It’s never a victim or survivor’s fault that they experienced sexual violence. It’s not. It has never been, and it never will be. It’s impossible to count how many times I’ve heard survivors say, “well, if I hadn’t been drinking…” or “but we were dating….” No. No matter the circumstances, sexual violence is not the victim’s fault. Be sure to remind the survivor of this. You can say things like, “It wasn’t your fault,” or “I believe you.” So much shame, guilt, and self-blame can surround sexual trauma, so make sure to reassure that they are not at fault.

Respect and Encourage

It’s ok to respect survivors’ choices and still encourage them to seek medical or professional support. If the trauma has occurred recently, you can offer to support them if they want to seek medical attention. The process behind forensic and medical evaluation following an assault or rape can also be traumatizing. Offering support and encouragement if this is their choice can be a deciding factor in seeking additional assistance, medically, legally, or otherwise. Remember, don’t push. Encourage them to seek appropriate resources but respect their decision either way.

Find Support for Yourself

Secondary traumatization. It’s a thing. Hearing about another person’s sexual trauma or violence can be distressing for you as well. It’s ok (and encouraged) to seek your own support after a survivor has shared their trauma with you. It’s normal to experience emotional reactions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, or helplessness following exposure to another’s trauma. You deserve your own outlet while still respecting the survivor’s privacy.