How to ask, listen, and talk about sexual assault and violence
How to ask
- Choose a private, comfortable, interruption-free setting.
- Express concern. Let them know that you’re worried about them, and why.
- Be ready for a variety of different reactions, some of which may be upsetting or stressful for you.
How to listen
- Believe them. Sexual violence is real: it affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men.
- Be patient. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences, no matter how long it takes for them to get the words out on their own.
- Listen without forming a response. If you’re trying to figure out what to say next while someone else is talking, you’re not really listening.
- Don’t assume they want you to find a solution. They may just need to have a conversation expressing how they feel.
- Avoid using terms like “victim” or “survivor” unless they use them.
- Avoid physical contact unless they initiate it.
How to talk
- Ask how you can support them, rather than telling them what to do.
- Respect their privacy. Only they should decide who hears their story.
- Let them know there are supports available. Ask questions like, “How would you feel about talking to a counsellor?”
- Make sure the conversation is ongoing. Whether they get professional help or not, and whether they seem to feel better after talking or not, find a later time to check how they’re doing.
- Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know what the answer is,” but make sure to follow it with, “I’ll help you find out.” Contact a trusted source of advice and information.
- Take care of yourself. Supporting someone else can be an emotional and challenging experience.