how to support a survivor, in 4 difficult sentences.

This is one of those times where you’ve got to say something, right, and you’re like, “What on earth is there to say?”

Well. One of the things I can say is: go read the #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter, for a primer on what it’s like to live in a culture where living in a feminine body is still – STILL – a risk factor for violence.

And another thing I can say is, to survivors: I believe you. Thank you for trusting me with your stories. I am sorry that someone hurt you. And I support you, whatever you choose to do next.

These are four difficult but crucial sentences. Not every act of sexual or gender-based violence can be prevented, and so the question must and does arise: how do I support someone who’s been a target of violence?

It’s actually fairly simple, but not even a little bit easy. You just use these four sentences, usually in this order:

1. I believe you.\ 2. Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.\ 3. I am sorry that happened to you.\ 4. I support you whatever you choose to do.


And then you listen and be present… and then listen and be present some more.

You’ll experience an urge to take care of the person. That’s normal, because you care. But you must, must, must sit still with it and let the person take care of themselves. Trauma is (in part) about having control over your body and your choices taken away. Survivors need, therefore, safe environments where they can take back control. So sit still with your need to drive them to the hospital, call the police, beat the shit out of the perpetrator, or even hug the survivor. Sit still, notice that you care, be kind to yourself, and sit still some more.

And then you take really good care of yourself, because you’re a co-survivor and that’s hard too.

And forgive yourself when you screw up, because you will screw up and it’s okay. I’ve screwed up, and the survivors still healed. My co-survivors screwed up and I still healed. We’re all in this together, working toward wholeness.