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How to Support a Survivor

If someone comes to you to report an incident of gender based violence (sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking) it generally means that you are someone that they trust. How you respond to their disclosure can have a significant impact on how they heal and view future relationships. Benedictine University cares about every member of our community and has resources available to both you and the survivor.

Here are some tips to guide you as you support the survivor:

Listen and believe the survivor

False reports are not common and it is far more likely that a survivor will choose not to report. It is likely difficult for the survivor to talk to someone about this experience and they chose you. Also, keep in mind that unless you are a police officer or Title IX Coordinator, it is not your job to investigate. If you are a faculty or staff member it is your responsibility to report the incident, but otherwise your role is supporting the person who came to you. Do not pressure them to share more than they are comfortable with or make promises you may not be able to keep.

suggestions for what to say:

"I am so sorry this happened to you."

"Thank you for trusting me with this."

"What can I do to help?"

Remind the survivor that it is not their fault

Avoid "Why" questions since they are often victim blaming. Gender based violence is only the fault of the perpetrator.  It does not matter what they were wearing, where they were, or what they were doing. No one deserves to be assaulted. Let them know that survivors or bystanders who report, in good faith, any incident of violence will not be charged with an alcohol or drug violation on campus.  

Ask what you can do to help or offer further support

Do not try to pressure the survivor to make choices. Survivors often have experienced relationships or events in which their power has been taken from them. How they heal or what they choose to do next is up to them. Explain what options are available to them and support them in any way you can. Offer to go to a counseling session with them or go with them to report. Express concern, but do not judge what they choose to do.

suggestions for what to say:

"I understand that this is probably overwhelming. You can take things one step at a time. What is your highest priority?"

"You may not know what to do next, but I want you to know that you have options. On campus you can report to the Police or Title IX Coordinator. Or free counseling is available through the University Counseling Center. If you prefer to seek assistance off campus or just want additional support, you can call one of our victim advocacy community partners. The hotlines are available 24/7 and they can help you talk through all of the options available."

Encourage them to see medical attention as soon as possible if the violence was sexual or physical

Whether a survivor chooses to get medical attention or not is their choice, but let them know that this is an option and their right. Let them know that the sooner they go, the better chance that the healthcare staff will be able to find evidence. Medical attention may also be necessary in treating injuries. A survivor can also choose to talk through these options with a victim advocate. Advocates are able to go with survivors to medical and legal visits. A list of hospitals and victim advocates are on our Resource and Referral guide.

Take care of yourself too

You may also feel strong emotions about what happened to the survivor. Know that it is okay and normal to feel this way and that you are not alone. Resources are available for you too. Also, know your limits. If you do not know what to do, reach out for help. You do not have to have all the answers. If you are seeking assistance on campus you can reach out to the Counseling Center in the Krasa Student Center (Room 112), the Title IX Coordinator, Tammy Sarver, or the Violence Against Women Act Grant Coordinator, Bernadette Ramsden. You can also reach the University Police Department by calling (630) 829-6666 (emergency) or (630) 829-6122 (non-emergency).


**Adapted from Loyola University Chicago, Fulfilling Your Role as a Responsible Employee; Best Practices and Responsibilities for Faculty, Staff and Administrators. Suggestions for what to say adapted from YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Crisis Intervention Training.


Bernadette Ramsden, LSW
Violence Against Women Act Grant Coordinator
Neff Center, Room 110
(630) 829-1326

Tammy Sarver, Ph.D.
Title IX Coordinator
Professor, Political Science
Scholl Hall, Room 228L
(630) 829-6473