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What To Do When Someone Discloses To You

Receiving a disclosure is a fancy way of saying that someone shares their experience of power-based personal violence with you. Our society has lots of ways of silencing survivors, showing them that we do not believe them, or blaming them for what was done to them. Because of this, survivors may associate disclosures with fear and anxiety. Being aware of resources and giving the survivor space to talk and make their own choices, can help alleviate these stresses.

This moment of hearing and responding to a disclosure has really powerful implications. This is our opportunity to disrupt the silencing, disbelief and blaming of survivors and convey trauma-informed support for our friends, loved ones and peers. How someone responds to a disclosure is often a deciding factor in whether or not the survivor will continue talking or seeking help. 

Below are some things to consider in order to make your response helpful and healing:

1.BELIEVE the survivor and validate their experience and emotion.  Use the same language the survivor is using, since other words may not feel like a good fit for their experience.  Some things to say to convey your support include:

    • I’m here to listen.
    • Thank you for sharing this with me.
    • I care about you, and I’m here for you.
    • I believe you.
    • I’m so sorry someone hurt you. What they did to you is not okay.

2. If they choose to talk, then listen. Be present in the conversation and eliminate any distractions, like phones, active computer screens, etc.

3. Avoid asking for more detail.  It’s a normal reaction to ask for more information to understand what happened, but this can sometimes force the survivor to share more than they’re comfortable with, or even to relive the traumatic experience.  You also want to avoid asking “why” questions. They tend to imply blame.  

4. Know your resources. Be informed about resources available on and off-campus, so when the time comes, you have information to share with a survivor. Talk to a trained professional to clarify your own feelings and/or gather insight into what the survivor is experiencing.  AVI regularly consults with and provides debriefing sessions for friends, partners, community advisors, orientation leaders, faculty, and staff, etc. 

5. Follow their lead to put the power and control back in their court. Remember, the incident they’re describing was a time in their life where someone took power and control away from them.  We do not want to remove more power and control from them in our response.  Give survivors the option of controlling the room.  Would they like the door open or closed?  Where would they like to sit?

Offer resource options instead of unsolicited advice. Do not force a survivor into using any particular resource. If the survivor feels uncomfortable with your advice, they may not follow-up, may worry about disappointing you, and may not seek any additional support at all. Below are some ways you can emphasize choice for a survivor:

    • I will support you in whatever you decide to do (or not to do) next.
    • What do you need in order to feel supported and safe?
    • How can I support you?
    • It’s okay to not know what you want to do.

6. Be open with your comfort level. You do not want your discomfort with the situation to be misinterpreted as a lack of concern or an overreaction to make the person feel worse. If you are unsure what to do or say, convey belief and remember that AVI is a great starting place for resources and support. If you know other resources, you can share those as well.

7. Remind the survivor the only person responsible for the assault was the perpetrator. Victim blaming is so pervasive in our culture, and you may realize the survivor has internalized these messages and now blames themself. Some things you could say to counteract this are:

  • What they did to you is not okay.
  • It is not your fault.
  • You do not deserve to be treated like that.