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How to Help a Survivor

Not sure how to help a family member, friend, coworker or acquaintance? MSU Safe Place can be a source of help and support to people seeking information and guidance on how to help someone they know. Contact us at (517) 355-1100.

Your initial response to a disclosure is critical and can promote trauma recovery. Please consider the following when someone discloses to you:

  • Call 911 if assault is in progress
  • Check for injuries or medical needs
  • Ensure safety
  • Believe the victim/survivor
  • Don’t judge victim/survivor and their behavior, choices, etc.
  • Be supportive, empathic, and sensitive
  • Expect different behavior/reactions (anger, tearful/crying, laughing, calm, collected, detached/numbness); trauma or shock can present in many ways
  • There is no “normal response” to violence, abuse or trauma
  • Respect personal space (don’t initiate touching or hugging)
  • Don’t pry. Unless you are acting in an investigator role, such as a detective investigating a crime, it is not helpful to ask many questions. Even in that role, asking open-ended questions is best practice. For friends and others who are in a support role, allow each survivor to share at their own pace.
  • Avoid asking unnecessary questions. Instead ask “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”
  • Contact service providers for consultation and support
  • Guide to appropriate resources
  • Follow the University Reporting Protocols - visit for more information
  • Respect privacy (tell only those who need to know for reporting purposes)

You can help someone who is experiencing relationship violence:

  • Listen to them and believe them. Recognize that disclosing to you took great strength and courage.
  • Understand what they are saying and validate their feelings and strength. Devote your effort to understanding the thoughts, feelings, and experiences they have chosen to share with you.
  • Talk with them about their physical/emotional safety. One way to open the dialogue is to say, “I am concerned about your safety.”
  • Help the person understand that the abuse is not their fault. The person may feel guilty about being abused. You can help by saying, “It is not your fault” or “You have done nothing to deserve this type of treatment.”
  • Support the person’s right to control their own life. Don’t expect the survivor to follow your advice. Remember that ultimately they must be making the decisions regarding their own life.
  • Provide helpful resource information. Give the person numbers to local shelters and/or crisis lines. Encourage them to call.
  • Protect the survivor’s right to confidentiality. Recognize the person’s choice to disclose to you. Respect their right to tell whomever they choose.
  • Contact MSU Safe Place. Even if you aren’t experiencing relationship violence personally, MSU Safe Place can be a resource for you too. MSU Safe Place staff can provide support, options and resources and help you to figure out how you can best help.

You can help stand against relationship violence or stalking by doing any of the following:

  • Call the police if you witness an assault in progress.
  • Be a role model for healthy relationships. Treat your friends and partners with respect.
  • If it is safe for you to do so with people in your life, state that controlling and violent behavior is not OK. This behavior is a sign that a person has a problem and needs help.
  • Take a stand against abusive/stalking or victim-blaming behavior. Confront jokes about physical/sexual/emotional violence or those that make light of stalking. Don’t reinforce abusive behavior by laughing, minimizing, or ignoring an act of violence or a threat.
  • Consider attending educational or awareness raising events during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) or National Stalking Awareness Month (January); sharing social media posts from your local domestic violence or stalking program; or donating to local or national domestic violence or stalking programs.
  • Contact MSU Safe Place for information and referrals or to learn about ways to support the program.