24-Hour Helpline 1-800-928-7273

How to respond when someone discloses abuse


How to Respond

When a Loved One Discloses Abuse

When a survivor discloses that they have been sexually assaulted it can be difficult for both the survivor and the person they disclose to. You may not know what to say or how to react. If a loved one shares their story with you, the best thing you can do is to start by believing them! Learn more at Start By Believing

What are Sexual Abuse and Assault?

Sexual abuse refers to any action that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do. It can also refer to behavior that impacts a person’s ability to control their sexual activity or the circumstances in which sexual activity occurs, including oral sex, rape or restricting access to birth control and condoms.

Some examples of sexual assault and abuse are:
  • Unwanted kissing or touching.
  • Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
  • Rape or attempted rape.
  • Refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control.
  • Keeping someone from protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Sexual contact with someone who is very drunk, drugged, unconscious or otherwise unable to give a clear and informed “yes” or “no.”
  • Threatening or pressuring someone into unwanted sexual activity.

How You Respond Matters

If a friend or loved one discloses abuse, try using the T.A.L.K. method created by RAINN to respond.
THANK them for telling you and show your appreciation for their trust.
Say things like, “I believe you,” and “It’s not your fault.”
ASK how you can help.
Avoid giving advice right away and let them make their own choices about what to do next. It is always better to ask than to assume you know what they want or need.
LISTEN without judgement.
Reactions such as anger or shock are natural but can be discouraging for a survivor. Instead, listen without judgement. Give them your undivided attention and focus on their feelings by listening in a calm and empathetic way.
KEEP Supporting.
Healing takes time. Keep supporting them by regularly reaching out and checking in on their emotions. Be sure to practice empathy to changes in their behavior. Change in behavior is a natural reaction to trauma. Keep including them and inviting them to spend time together doing normal things.

What Should You Avoid Saying or Doing?

Don’t ask “why” questions. Even with good intentions, questions starting in “why” may come across accusatory.

Don’t ask if they’re sure it happened.

Don’t say it doesn’t sound like sexual assault or “isn’t that bad.”

Don’t tell them they should have gotten over it or moved on by now.

Don’t insist they have to do a certain thing such as talk to the police. Let them make their own decisions.

If you have questions about how to respond to and support your loved ones, call Lotus 24-Hour Helpline 1(800)928-7273. 

Sarah is a community impact consultant at Lotus. She is a graduate of Murray State University and is passionate about spreading messages of hope and healing.

More from Lotus