How To Help
How To Respond If Someone Reports To You
What can I say if someone discloses a sexual assault to me?
The most helpful thing you can do is listen and help the person come to their own conclusion. Here are some helpful phrases you can use to empower and encourage the person to express their preferences.
- “I know this is very upsetting.”
- “I am sorry this happened to you.”
- “What do you think would help?”
- “How do you feel about that?”
- “You can tell me more if you are comfortable, but you don’t have to.”
- “How can I best support you?”
- “How can I be most helpful to you?”
- “Do you want to ___?”
- “What would you like to see happen?”
- “Don’t blame yourself for things beyond your control.”
What NOT to do
Sometimes, in trying to help, you can do more harm than good. Here are some things
you should avoid saying or doing.
- Avoid using phrases like: “You shouldn’t…” “You ought to…” “You’re wrong.”
- Avoid criticizing or blaming: “This wouldn’t have happened if you…”
- Avoid warning, ordering, or threatening: “If you don’t do __, you’ll regret it.”
- Avoid diagnosing or interpreting: “You’re doing that because…”
- Avoid offering solutions: “I think you should…” “If I were you…”
- Avoid interrogating: “When did it happen?” “Where did it happen?” “Why did you do that?”
- Avoid giving too-positive evaluations: “I’m sure you’ll be fine.” “It will all work out.”
- Avoid distracting or diverting: “It isn’t that bad.” “Let’s talk about something more pleasant.”
No more violence! We often want to respond to violence with aggressive action. This is not helpful for your friend or partner who has been traumatized—it could make things worse and have unintended consequences.
There is no prescribed method of healing following a traumatic event because each person’s experience will vary. Healing takes time and begins with compassionate support from friends and loved ones. Here are some strategies you may find useful in helping someone recover from trauma.
Listen nonjudgmentally. Studies have shown that the reaction—whether positive or negative— of the first person to whom an individual discloses their story will affect the way in which healing occurs.
- Express empathy. It is a natural response to analyze and question when someone tells a story. However, active listening skills teach us to talk less and listen more. It is best not to question an individual’s actions, details of the trauma, or why your friend or partner feels the way they do.
- Do not blame. Survivors of traumatic incidents often blame themselves for what happened. Keep in mind people shouldn’t blame themselves for things that are beyond their control.
- Assure them that they are not alone. Survivors of traumatic events often feel isolated, scared, and powerless. You can help just by being there. Your presence can reassure them and allow them to work out their feelings in a safe environment.
- Empower them. Because traumatic events often take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this by pressuring them to do things they may not be ready to do. Remember, it is always up to the individual to make choices that will affect the healing process. Providing them with resources and options will help them regain the control that was lost. Support and respect their decisions.
- Know reporting options and available resources. There are several reporting options here at ETSU. Some are confidential, some are not. There are also several campus and local resources as well as 24-hour hotlines. Visit www.etsu.edu/violencefree to learn more about reporting and resources.
- Offer to accompany them wherever they need to go. The person may want to seek mental health counseling, spiritual support, or medical care.
- Follow up. Let the person know you take the report seriously and that you care about their health, safety, and well-being: “I was thinking about our conversation. How are you doing?”
- ETSU Counseling Center (confidential): (423) 439-3333
- Campus Clergy (confidential): Call the SORC for a list at (423) 439-6633
- ETSU University Health Center: Nicks 160, (423) 439-4225
- Johnson City Medical Center: (423) 431-6111
- Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee (SACETN) 24-Hour Crisis Line: (865)-522-7273
- Office of Compliance: (423) 439-8545
- Student Life and Enrollment: (423) 439-4210
- ETSU Police: Parking Garage 2nd Level, (423) 439-4480
- Johnson City Police Department: (423) 434-6000
If there is an emergency, call 911.