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Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

When someone tells you they are a victim-survivor of rape, sexual violence, or childhood sexual abuse, it can be hard to know what to say and do. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all way to support someone, no phrasebook or guide to navigate these conversations, no magical words you can say to change what they have already been through and make it better. 

Being there for someone is not easy and we can all fear saying the wrong thing, upsetting someone, or making things worse. So while all survivors are different and do not all want or need the same things, these can be some good ideas to bear in mind if you are supporting someone. 


  • It may be really hard for you to hear what the victim-survivor is telling you, but allowing them to talk, staying present with them, and trying not to interrupt with questions can be helpful.

The fact that this person has chosen to disclose their experience(s) to you probably says they are trusting you a lot. Acknowledging just how hard it may have been for them to talk about this with you can go a long way, as can letting the victim-survivor know that you are not judging them, that their telling you this has not changed the way you see them, and that you accept them, can be positive. Furthermore, there is no pressure for you to react instantly, simply listening can be incredibly powerful.

Believe them

  • It is really rare for people to lie about rape, sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse. Telling someone you are a victim-survivor can be really scary and while you may find it really hard to hear and wish it was not true, it is important that you let the survivor know that you believe them and what they are telling you. This person has chosen to trust you with their story. Dismissing or disbelieving them can feel like an enormous betrayal and may increase feelings of shame, making it harder for them to seek help and support, or to tell anyone else. 

Let them know this wasn’t their fault

  • Some victim-survivors have no doubt about who was responsible for the sexual violence they were subjected to. However, many people can struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and self blame and question why this happened or what they could or should have done differently.

The blame for sexual violence sits solely with the perpetrator(s). Nothing a victim-survivor said, did, or wore excuses the perpetrator’s decision to violate their rights over their body or invalidates their right to choose who touches them. Your voice can validate this wasn’t okay and that nothing could make them at fault for anything that happened.

Respect boundaries

  • Sexual offences are about power and control, stripping victim-survivors of control over their body and right to give or refuse consent. If someone is choosing to disclose their experience of sexual violence to you, respect their right to decide how much they want to tell you and their timeline. You might have a lot of questions, thoughts and feelings about what they are telling you, but sharing all of these can come across as judgments of their behaviour, before, during, or since the violence. 

Respect their privacy

  • It is not your place to share anything an adult victim-survivor has told you with anyone else, (unless there are strong safeguarding reasons why you should). It is not your place to decide you will report a crime on their behalf without their consent, or continue this pattern of abuse deciding that you know best, taking away yet more control. If someone does not want to report to the police, tell their family, partner or friends, does not want to do something you think they should, as long as they are not in immediate danger, it is none of your business. You can support them, listen, be there for them, attend appointments if they want you to or ask you to, but it is not your right to force them to do anything.

Don’t ask why questions

  • Why questions can sound incredibly judgmental. Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why didn’t you fight back? Why did you plan to hook up with this person you just met? In many cases, victim survivors will already have considered every choice they made and what being raped or assaulted means about them. Reinforcing the idea that the victim-survvor was responsible in any way for the sexual violence or that their delayed disclosure, their decision to not go to the police, the fact they showered when they got home, etc diminishes the severity or legitimacy of the sexual violence somehow can add to the blame and shame they may be carrying. 

Supporting someone can be really hard and hearing the things that someone has been through could bring up strong feelings for you, too. There is no shame in finding it difficult and no expectation that you can be there for someone else 24 hours a day. If you find these feelings staying with you or affecting your well-being, or you need support to help process everything, that is okay. The TELL Lifeline is available daily and services are split across phone and chat platforms. For daily service hours, please see our website

Learn more about the topic of sexual violence in Japan at the May 12th TELL x KIF event at Seisen International School  “Changing Focus: From Myth to Reality – Addressing the topic of Sexual Violence in Japan”. Join us for a panel discussion with Machiko Osawa and others, and then an Aikido class teaching some simple self defence techniques. Tickets are on sale now: https://tellkif.peatix.com