As the parent, sibling, partner, or friend of someone who has experienced sexual misconduct (“secondary survivor”), you may feel anger, sadness, fear, confusion, or guilt—or you may feel none of these things. Everyone responds differently and is entitled to his or her own experience. You are also entitled to support as you support others.
Many people who experience sexual misconduct struggle with guilt or shame, and may blame themselves for what happened to them. Secondary survivors can play a key role in helping people place the blame squarely where it belongs: on the perpetrator alone. Validate the person’s trust in you by not questioning the decisions he or she made, or passing judgment on his or her choices.
Follow the Person's Lead
Allow the person to share what he or she is willing to share, when he or she is willing to share it with you. It is normal for people who experience sexual misconduct to process their experiences incrementally to minimize the feeling of being overwhelmed. Reassure the person that you will be there whenever needed. Be patient and know that the recovery process can take time.
Empower the Person
By assisting the person in exploring his or her options and allowing him or her to decide what you should do, you are empowering him or her and facilitating recovery. You need not have all the answers, but you can be a powerful resource by recommending sources who can answer specific questions. Respect the person’s choices regarding what services he or she does or does not want; doing so leaves the door open to come back to you for help later. Ask whether or how you should share information with other people, and then follow through.
Explore the many myths and assumptions about sexual misconduct that may interfere with a person’s recovery process. Understand what is helpful (and not helpful).
Take Care of Yourself
When someone you care about experiences sexual misconduct, there is likely to be an impact on you as well. You may find it helpful to talk with a support person as you navigate the role of “secondary survivor.” Doing so may help you to better support the person. This is also an opportunity to lead by example: Showing that self-care is important to you may help the person consider it a priority as well.
Take Action When Safety Is Threatened
If you are concerned that someone is in immediate danger on campus, whether from another person or him- or herself, contact the Wellesley College Police Department at 781-283-5555 for emergency assistance at any time. If the person is off campus, call 911.