Ways You Can Support Survivors

It can be hard to know how to act or what to say when someone you care about tells you they are a survivor of sexual violence, but each of us can play an important role in supporting students who experience violence and abuse. This page offers suggestions for how to show your support for survivors, and is also available as a printable download,

Reporting Requirements for WWU Employees

Sharing your limits to privacy is an important part of supporting student survivors. If you are a Western faculty or staff member, including RAs and graduate assistants, and you are NOT employed as a psychologist, mental health counselor, survivor advocate, or other health care professional, you must comply with employee reporting requirements through the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance, as outlined in WWU policy POL-U1600.04.

Psychologists, mental health counselors, survivor advocates, and healthcare professionals at Western are confidential employees who are not required to make a Title IX report.

Safety Considerations

Check in to see if the survivor is feeling safe. If it is appropriate, help them think of a safety plan to avoid further harm. Having a plan in place can help to alleviate some of the survivor’s anxiety, as well as increase their feeling of regaining control.

If a student does not feel safe or needs an emergency option or medical care, visit the Survivor Advocacy Services FAQs for helpful resources.

Do's of Supporting

  • Start by believing
  • Listen and communicate without judgment
  • Know the support resources and refer to resources
  • Respect the survivor’s choices
  • Encourage self-care and take care of yourself
  • If you are a WWU employee, follow WWU’s employee reporting requirements

Questions to Ask

  • Is it okay to talk now? Is this a good location for you?
  • What is your biggest concern/what are you most worried about right now?
  • How can I help?
  • Can I tell you about support resources?

Actions to Avoid

  • Asking for details about the experience of violence/ abuse
  • Minimizing or labeling the experience for them
  • Having all the answers
  • Making promises you can’t keep
  • Pressuring them to make certain choices or making choices for them

Resources to Share

It’s okay not to have all of the answers. There are community resources that can provide specialized care, and you can refer survivors to these services. Helping the survivor sort through resources in small pieces can make the process less overwhelming. Survivor Advocacy Services is Western’s trauma-informed, confidential survivor advocacy service. They can be reached at 360-650-7982. The Survivor Advocacy Services Coordinator is a confidential employee and is not required to report. DVSAS is the community survivor advocacy service. They can be reached at 360-715-1563.

For a list of 24-hour resources, refer to the Survivor Advocacy Services webpage.

Validating Statements

Reassure the survivor that whatever emotion they are feeling is valid, that anyone can experience violence, and that the violence they experienced is not their fault. Embarrassment, guilt, numbness, and anxiety are common emotions to feel. By normalizing these feelings and reassuring the survivor that they are not responsible for what happened, you can help to ease these difficult emotions.

Examples of validating statements:

  • “I believe you.”
  • “This is not your fault.”
  • "You are not alone."
  • "I'm so sorry you've experienced this."
  • “You deserve to feel safe and respected.”
  • "Thank you for telling me."
  • "I don't know what to say, but I'm glad you told me."

Take Care of Yourself

Hearing about someone else’s trauma can be distressing or even triggering. Remember to take time to breathe, process your own emotions, and practice self-care. Grounding your own emotions will also help you maintain a more calming presence when supporting others. Respect your own health by only performing tasks that you are comfortable with.