The #MeToo movement has empowered many survivors to come forward and share their experiences. Many of us may have had a friend, family member, or another loved one confide in us about their survivorship. This can be jarring. There are a range of emotions that can accompany a loved one disclosing to you – from confusion, to anger, to fear, to anxiety – and that’s okay. We may be unsure of what to say or how to help. Even if we know how to speak out against rape culture and victim-blaming narratives, hearing that a loved one has experienced sexual violence can be difficult for us to navigate internally, despite our desire to provide support to them.

Finding the right words can help a survivor feel safe and supported. Here are a few suggestions.

“I believe you.” This is the simplest and most critical way that we can show support when someone discloses. We know sexual violence is most often committed by someone the survivor knows and trusts. This often means the person hearing the disclosure may also know the person who caused harm. This can create confusion and may lead to an impulse to question the survivor’s account. Fear of this reaction can contribute to a survivor’s reluctance to come forward. Affirming that you believe them is the most critical first step you can take in supporting a survivor.

“It’s not your fault.” Survivors may internalize victim-blaming attitudes and blame themselves for an assault. Reminding them that it is not their fault can give them much-needed support, comfort, and reassurance. It also can let them know that you’re a safe person for them to come to for support.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Survivors all have different paths to healing. As a loved one, we can support their decisions and respect their healing process. Survivors may not want to report to law enforcement, or they may not be ready to talk with anyone else about their experience. Letting them know their options can help them make a choice on how to move forward. If you’re not sure what options are available, you can direct the survivor to call New Jersey’s statewide hotline (800-601-7200) and speak to a county-based advocate.  Advocates can also provide support to loved ones and they can help guide us in supporting the survivor in our life.

As we encourage survivors to come forward and share their experiences with #MeToo, we also need to work towards cultural change – starting with creating supportive environments when survivors disclose. We see more and more survivors feeling comfortable enough to share their experiences and more folks speaking out against victim blaming. Fostering this environment can start individually by supporting our loved ones who have experienced sexual violence.

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