How to Support Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

| October 2, 2020
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Note: this post was updated in March 2024 to reflect updated information and resources.

Gender-based violence (GBV) includes sexual assault, harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and relationship violence. 

Supporting folks who have experienced GBV is a crucial part of creating communities that are not permissive of GBV.  

There are three critical points in time when we can focus our efforts to the best ways to support survivors of GBV.  

Those times are: 

  1. Before someone who has survived GBV discloses to us;  
  2. When a person who survived GBV first shares with us; and 
  3. After someone shares their experience with us 

It is also important that we are talking care of ourselves while supporting others.  

Let’s review some ways to do all of these things, and some on- and off-campus resources that can help. 

Before a Disclosure 

Understanding the impact trauma can have on the body, mind, and life of a person can change the way we interact with those who have experienced trauma. That in turn can potentially affect the way folks seek support for healing from trauma. Communities that focus on survivor support are likely to have embedded mechanisms that allow ease in finding resources and healing.

Statistically you probably know and interact with many survivors, even if they never disclose their experiences to you. Per the 2019 Johns Hopkins Campus Climate Survey, 37% of women, 13 % of men, and 41% of trans or non-binary people in the undergraduate student body have experienced sexual assault.

Consider what a person could encounter in their environment that could potentially re-traumatize them or may decrease the likelihood that they will reach out for the support they deserve. Consider what it might look like if that environment was instead focused on access to resources, support for survivors, and an understanding of how trauma impacts an individual.

Here are some considerations that might shape communities in that way and that can give you tools to be prepare to support survivors should anyone disclose their experiences to you. 

GBV is never the fault of the survivor. Never. No matter where they were, if they were using drugs or alcohol, if they had had sex with the perpetrator before, what they were wearing, how they were dancing, or anything else. It is always, 100% of the time, the fault of the person who chose to interact with another’s body or life without that person’s express permission.  

There is no such thing as a “right” way for a person to respond to trauma. No two people react to trauma in the same way. Because of the hormones the human brain releases (adrenalin, cortisol, opioids, and oxytocin) during a traumatic event, survivors may respond in ways that are unexpected to folks who support them or even to survivors themselves. 

These hormones can cause numbing effects, feelings of joy and even pleasure, or disconnection. This is the body’s way of surviving the trauma. Some folks may seem upset, but others may seem unfazed. Some may be trying to piece events together, and others may seem upbeat. All of these are normal and valid ways to respond to trauma and none of these reactions negate the need for support. 

When a Disclosure Happens 

Let the survivor take the lead. This is arguably the most important way you can respond upon the occasion of a GBV disclosure. 

GBV is not something anyone chooses to experience. Being supportive of the choices survivors make (as long as they and others are safe) is paramount towards the regaining of autonomy. Survivors are experts in their own lives, so it is important for them to lead the way and tell you what they need, rather than the other way around. 

We can let survivors lead by offering resources, but in a way that makes it clear the decision to reach out (even with your assistance) is up to them. We might do this by saying something like“I know of a website/hotline/office that might be helpful. Can I send you that info so you have it if you need it?  

This approach gives survivors tools, support, and choice. 

Letting survivors take the lead can also look like letting folks go at their own pace in regards to healing, talking, and seeking out resources.  

Convey that you believe them and that the violence was not their fault. This can look like saying something very direct like: 

  •  “I believe you.  
  • This was not your fault.
  • “I’m sorry this happened.”

After a Disclosure 

Continue to care for survivors after they have initially disclosed to you. It’s good to ask how the person how they would like to be supported. Some examples include: 

  • What would be helpful right now?” 
  • What do you need today?”  
  • What can I do to support you?”
  • “Would it be alright if I checked in with you from time to time? What is the best way to do that? 

Be patient. There is no time limit for healing.  Folks may go through periods of feeling really good, but then might have a period of feeling bad again. Healing is cyclical, not linear.  

Taking Care of Yourself While Supporting a Friend 

Self-care gives us the fuel we need to continue to help others. 

Take care of yourself in order to be able to continue to support others.  Schedule time to do something only for you, like exercise, a favorite show, cooking, craftingcleaning, a nap, or listening to music.  

Set and maintain boundaries. Allow yourself to recognize when you have reached something that is out of your area of comfort or expertise. It is absolutely ok to say to someone: 

  •  “I do not know the answer to this.”  
  • “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now, can we find another time?”  
  • “I can’t do that right now, but let’s reach out to someone else.”  

Share resources with survivors when you think they may be better suited to help them than you are. It is absolutely ok to loop in others if you are concerned for the safety of someone else or yourself. See the list below for on- and off-campus  

If you feel like you need to process your own experiences with a disclosure, you are also welcome to reach out to the resources below for additional support.  


There are two types of resources available to those who have experienced GBV: confidential and non-confidential.

While privacy is always at the center of the work of all staff, confidential staffers are able to provide help and support and hold on to the details you share (who, what, where, when) without the requirement of any involvement by staff in the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE).

Please visit the “We Listen. You Decide.” page of this website for a complete list of confidential staffers.

Those who are non-confidential are required to share some information with OIE and can also provide support. If you are uncertain if a staff member is confidential or not, we invite you to ask them and also consult the “We Listen. You Decide.” page. If faculty and staff are not listed there, they are non-confidential.