How to respond when someone confides in you about their experience with sexual violence

*Content warning: sexual violence and trauma

Providing support to survivors of sexual violence is extremely important. You don’t have to be an expert on the issue to respond with compassion when someone confides in you about their experience with sexual violence. It can be a big decision for a survivor to choose to share their story, and if they confide in you, it likely means that they trust you.  

If someone reaches out to you in the immediate aftermath of experiencing violence, the first step is to ensure the survivor is safe and not in immediate danger. If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also reach out to the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) for support during this time. You can reach SARNCO’s statewide helpline at 1-844-OHIO-HELP and their local (Franklin County) helpline at 614-267-7020. 

Once you have established safety, do your best to remain present, engaged, authentic, and genuine in your response. Start by believing. Practice active listening. Be patient and eliminate distractions. It can be important to express general themes of compassion, support, belief, nonjudgment, and validation. 

Some examples of supportive responses you can offer when someone tells you they have experienced sexual violence include: 

  • “Thank you for sharing your experience with me.”  
  • “It takes a lot of courage for you to share this experience.” 
  • “I believe you.” 
  • “This wasn’t your fault.” 
  • “You didn’t deserve this.” 
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.” 
  • “I’m here for you.” 
  • “How you are feeling is valid.” or “Your reaction is completely valid.”  
  • “You are not alone.” 

There are also some other reminders to keep in mind as you have this conversation. First and foremost, let the survivor guide the conversation. Be patient and gentle with them. Focus on listening. This may involve sitting in silence and respecting their pace, as well as allowing or encouraging them to take a break when needed. Do not try to fix the situation or jump to action – just focus on being present with them and offering support and validation. 

Don’t ask for details or pressure the survivor to share more information than they are comfortable disclosing. Follow the survivor’s lead and use the same language that they are using to describe their experience when you are talking to them. Don’t judge their reactions or emotions. Experiencing trauma can lead to a variety of valid responses, which can include anger, fear, confusion, sadness, numbness, and many others. Remind them that their experiences, reactions, and emotions are valid no matter how they may be feeling.  

Don’t give unprompted advice or offer suggestions unless you are specifically asked to do so. Instead, ask the survivor how you can best support them and let them define their wants and needs. You can also ask if they would like to look into what resources and options are available. Try to always ask permission before providing information. Asking for permission and letting the survivor take the lead can help to re-establish a sense of control and autonomy after their consent has been violated. If they say no, respect their decision. Do not judge their choices. It is completely up to the survivor what steps they take, including whether they want to report their experience or seek services. 

If you are serving in a capacity in which you are a mandatory reporter, gently inform the survivor of this role and explain what it means. If you are not, keep the survivor’s story confidential. Their story is theirs to tell, and it is up to them when they decide to share their story, as well as to whom and when they want to share their story.  

Finally, as a support person, it is important to care for yourself. Please remember that there are resources available for you as well. Many helplines, including SARNCO’s, are available to support co-survivors and loved ones.  

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone.  


On-Campus Resources

Community Resources


-Lucy Hennon, Graduate Student Assistant   

Election 2020: Civility Starts with You

The term “civility” can mean many things to many people. 

Common responses may include “being polite and respectful to everyone” or “treating others as you’d like to be treated.” Dr. P.M. Forni, professor and co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the book Choosing Civility, says the following about the concept:

 “Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another.  It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication.  Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.  Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.”

In a contentious election year, the concept and practice of civility matters more now than ever.  According to Civility in America, an annual poll conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research, the majority of Americans (93%) believe that incivility is a problem in our society today. Alarming consequences of incivility include online or cyberbullying, harassment, violence, hate crimes, and intolerance (along others). Top reported factors contributing to the “erosion of civility” in America include (1) social media/the Internet; (2) The White House; (3) politicians in general; (4) the news media; and (5) political and social activists.  While these findings appear bleak, there is hope looking towards solutions to improve civility in our community.

Survey respondents recognized that the most crucial personal actions to improve civility in our world today involve (1) making an effort to be civil when treated uncivilly; (2) encouraging family, friends and coworkers to practice civility; (3) voting for political leaders who behave in a civil way; (4) committing to one act of civility or kindness regularly; and (5) speaking up or acting against incivility when witnessed. What other personal steps could you take to make Ohio State a more civil place?

Student Life is dedicated to building leaders and engaged citizens within Ohio State who will serve their communities and face difficult conversations in life with respect and integrity.  Demonstrating civility in our daily interactions with others is a foundational component of good leadership; being able to disagree without disrespect, listen beyond our assumptions, and implore others to do the same in return contributes towards a better society for all.

Check out OSU Votes to learn more about the student-led movement on campus dedicated to fostering civic engagement and encouraging student voter turnout. For those who have an interest in learning more, see the recommended reading list below as a good starting point on the subject. Both at Ohio State and in life, it is important that you do well and do good.  Civility starts with you!

Recommended Reading List:


By Natalie Fiato, Wellness Coordinator

Keep Calm and Carry On: Civility and COVID-19

While there may be shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer at the grocery store, there should be no shortage of kindness as we navigate a new normal in the time of COVID-19As public health officials are calling for responsible “social distancing,” perhaps the more appropriate term is “physical distancing,” while still aiming for social connection and compassion. Civility is more relevant now than ever, as Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton remind us that we are all #InThisTogether. Civility scholar P.M. Forni has said that “civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another…Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved.” I can’t think of a more apt time where we are able to practice civility and improve our health than this very moment.   

Personally, I have been touched to see people in my neighborhood strongly heeding the national guidance to stay at least six feet apart from one another while walking the dog or running on the sidewalk.  I have recently noticed far more people wearing cloth masks and other face coverings while shopping. I have also watched as friends and family from near and far have intentionally found ways to stay connected; through dates on Zoom, Facetime, and other social media forms.  I have been moved to read stories about people volunteering their time at food banks or delivering goods to seniors at home who are unable to get out themselves.  These kind actionshowever smallare significant and make an immeasurable difference when it comes to “flattening the curve” and keeping the most vulnerable members of our community safe. 

It bears repeating that the official CDC guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic include:  

  • Listen and follow the directions of your state and local authorities 
  • If you feel sick, stay home.  Do not go to work 
  • If someone in your household has tested positive, keep the entire household at home 
  • Work or study from home whenever possible 
  • Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people 
  • Use pickup or delivery options when it comes to getting food or groceries 
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits 
  • Always practice good hygiene: wash your hands, avoid touching your face, sneeze or cough into your elbow, and disinfect frequently used items and surfaces 
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others 

As the CDC says, “even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others.” For people who may feel that they do not face great personal risk from this virus, I implore you to consider the wellbeing of those around you: your family members, neighbors, and even members of your community who you do not know.  Although we are being asked to stay apartand it may feel like the farthest thing from caring for one anotherit is in fact the best thing to do for our collective health!   


-Natalie Fiato, Wellness Coordinator, Civility and Sexual Health Promotion 



Taking Steps Toward Change 

We are all experiencing a time of unease, uncertainty and unfamiliarity in our routines.  While this time can bring a sense of worry, it can also offer an opportunity for us to develop and enhance our personal wellbeing.  You can do this by following these steps outlined below as you reflect upon what brings happiness, meaning or purpose to your life.   

  1. Define what is meaningful to you, brings you happiness or provides purpose by naming one or two practices that you want to weave into your life.  Some examples may include cultivating meaningful relationships, serving others, discovering inner peace and joy, or simply focusing on personal wellbeing.   
  2. Choose one of these practices and envision how you can bring one to action.   
  3. Identify any obstacles that may hinder you from fulfilling your vision.    
  4.  Describe the reason you have made this practice a priority and outline how you will overcome a potential obstacle.   
  5. Determine what success looks like to you and set check-ins to help monitor your progress.  Always remember to be kind with yourself and demonstrate self-compassion if you need to re-imagine your path. 

Naturally, there are many ways to add happiness, meaning or purpose to your life and we just wanted to share one with you today.  We would love for you to share your journey during these unprecedented times. Please send us your insights and experiences to us @osuwellness.  Never  hesitate to reach out to us at if you need support, guidance and recommendations.  Please know that you are not alone. 


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