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voices against violence

How to Support a Survivor

Survivors of interpersonal violence may first discuss their experience with is a friend, family member, partner or a faculty or staff member. When a survivor shares their story, it may be difficult to know how to help or what to say.

The experience of each survivor is unique. There is no one course of action that a survivor "should” take or a specific way that a survivor "should” act. There are, however, some important things to keep in mind when offering support to a survivor of interpersonal violence.

Friends or Partners
Faculty or Staff
Parents or Family Members

A survivor's safety comes first.

how to help a survivor VAV uses the acronym BLOG as a quick reference to best practices for supporting a survivor - Believe, Listen, Offer Resources and Get Support for Yourself. Remember that any act of interpersonal violence can feel like someone's power has been taken away. Supportive response is about empowering a survivor to choose what happens next and honoring their decisions.
  • Believe them. Let them know you are glad they trusted you and that they can share as much or as little information with you as they feel comfortable doing.
  • Listen. Ask how you can be supportive and what they need. Speak only for yourself. Be patient, and let them share with you on their own terms and at their own pace.
  • Offer options and resources without pushing for one option over another. Do not tell a survivor what they “should” do or pressure them to report.
  • Get Support for yourself
  • Ask if they feel safe before ending the conversation. If they do not, consider calling a 24-hour crisis hotline together such as the CMHC Crisis Line (512) 471-CALL (2255) or SAFE Alliance, 512-267-SAFE (7233), available 24/7.

Things to avoid:

  • Don't tell a survivor that you know how they feel.
  • Don't tell a survivor what they must or should do.
  • Don't blame a survivor or cause them to feel guilt by saying things like, "Why didn't you..."

Friends and Partners

Believe the survivor. Listen to your friend or partner and validate that their experience of interpersonal violence is not their fault. It is often very difficult for survivors of interpersonal violence to talk about their experiences. Your job as a friend or partner is to support a survivor without judgment.

Acknowledge that the experience of each survivor is unique and avoid making comparisons or assumptions about the survivor’s experience.

If your friend or partner would like to and is ready, you can talk with them about options. Interpersonal violence may feel very disempowering, and it is important that a survivor decide whether, when and how they will engage with resources. You can provide a listening ear, accompany your friend to resource appointments, look up information about reporting options or university procedures and provide your friend with relevant, helpful phone numbers if they want them.

Privacy and confidentiality is very important to a survivor's safety and ongoing decision making. Do not share information regarding a survivor's experience without their consent, unless there is an immediate threat of danger to the survivor or others. It is possible to gather information about resources and relevant policies without providing identifying information or details of a survivor's story.

Get support for yourself. It is often difficult to hear that a friend or partner has experienced interpersonal violence, and you may feel emotions like anger, sadness and fear. If you are also a student of The University of Texas at Austin, you are welcome to access the Counseling and Mental Health Center. More on CMHC resources can be found here.

Faculty or Staff

As a faculty or staff member who may work with students experiencing interpersonal violence, it is important to understand your role within the university system and the limits of confidentiality for your position. Student survivors may not want to report their experience for many reasons, including ongoing safety concerns.

Survivor-centered practices include:

  • Informing students before you begin working with them and reminding them in multiple ways throughout your working relationship of your mandated reporter status ( e.g., on the first day of class, in the syllabus and other class materials and before any class discussion related to interpersonal violence).
  • If you believe a student is about to disclose a reportable incident, pause them before they disclose their story to remind them that, depending on the level of detail they share, you may be required to report the incident to the Title IX Coordinator. For more information about mandated reporting, visit Title IX website.

Should a student survvivor choose not to disclose, you may still refer that student to the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) Voices Against Violence for counseling and/or advocacy. Learn more about VAV services for survivors.

Should a student survivor choose to disclose, believe them. This is the first step in creating an emotionally and physically safe environment for the student.

Provide non-judgmental support and do not make assumptions about why the student survivor is disclosing their experience or what would be helpful for them.

Familiarize yourself with on-campus resources. You are not expected to be a student survivor's counselor or an expert on legal or university systems pertaining to interpersonal violence. You can, however, provide information about how a student survivor can access additional information and resources.

Beyond your mandatory reporting obligations, do not share the details of a student survivor’s story outside of a need-to-know basis. It is possible to gather information on resources and/or relevant policies and procedures regarding interpersonal violence without providing identifying information or details of a survivor's story.

Finally, serving as a support person for a survivor of interpersonal violence can be difficult. You may want to seek additional support for yourself to process the experience with a trusted person or therapist while respecting the student's confidentiality. The Employee Assistance Program offers supportive faculty and staff resources.

Find more about CMHC resources available for faculty and staff.

See the full policy of obligations of the University to investigate in the General Information Catalog Appendices D (Policy on Sex Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Sexual Misconduct, Interpersonal Violence and Stalking) and H (Prohibition of Sexual Assault).

For more information on the disciplinary process for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and sexual assault see Appendix C (Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities), Chapter 11 (Student Discipline and Conduct) in the General Information Catalog.

Parents and Family Members

Believe your student and assure them that they are not at fault for their experience(s) of interpersonal violence. It may be difficult to understand or discuss interpersonal violence experienced by your student, but it is important to listen to your student and provide them with a non-judgmental space to talk about their wishes and options. Supportive, active listening serves to re-empower survivors who may have experienced disempowerment, guilt, shame, confusion or fear.

It is not uncommon for survivors to wait some time before disclosing details of their experience to parents or family members, if they ever disclose. Avoid asking "Why?" questions such as "Why didn't you tell me sooner?" or "Why did you..." These types of questions may feel judgmental or seem to place blame on a survivor when they are not at fault for their experience.

Recognize that the student survivor is in control of the next steps. This may include decisions such as how much information to share with you or decisions about reporting to the police or the university, seeking a forensic exam, accessing counseling and other resources, etc. You may wish to learn about campus, legal and community resources, depending on your student's experience and needs.

More information about resources available to parents of students at UT Austin can be found at Texas Parents.

Supportive Response for Student Survivors (PDF)
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