As activists and advocates speaking publicly about trafficking, abuse, and human rights issues, it’s not uncommon for people to share how the issues connect to their personal experience of trauma. As non-professionals and volunteers, it’s important how we respond in these moments, especially as it may feel counter-intuitive. Here’s what to do – and what not to do.
Do believe them
Your posture should always reflect that you believe they are telling the truth.
Don’t feel you need to save them
Don’t feel you need to save them, their friend, or their child. It can feel like you’re being given a huge responsibility, but you have to know that you don’t have the power to make this okay. As a listener, you might presume that they’re asking you to find a solution for them, and they may not be asking that at all.
Much of the time, that’s what the person is looking for. Many people just need a listening ear. They may just want to feel heard, and they might not need anything more from you.
Don’t ask for more details about the situation
We are not investigators or clinicians. We don’t want this person to have to share their story more often than they need to. So, we want to do our best to let the story be fully heard by those equipped to bring long-term help. You should listen only to what the person is voluntarily and freely sharing, giving extra caution to not ask questions – especially leading questions. Do not pry.
Do acknowledge what they told you
It’s appropriate to say something like, “I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you. Thank you so much for sharing that. That really means a lot.”
Don’t react intensely
Don’t react in a way that puts the person in a position where they interpret that you need support from them, or where they feel judged. While it may be natural to feel shocked or you may even want them to know that what they’re sharing is a horrible thing, the appropriate way to communicate this feeling is by calmly saying things such as “I’m so sorry, that really shouldn’t have happened to you.”
Do provide resources
If they ask for support, offer and suggest they reach out to:
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline from the
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN):
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center:
1-888-3737-888 (Text “Be Free” 233733)
- The Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Don’t give life advice
… beyond basic resources in terms of hotlines or connections to well established professional services.
Report it if a child is being harmed, especially if you are a legally mandated reporter. If you’re a Love146 staff member or volunteer, our Child Protection Policy also makes you responsible to report a child being harmed. Call the situation in to child protective services.
Don’t say you’ll follow up with them
While it might make you feel better to be the helper, it’s best to refer the person to those who can offer the level of professional support and understanding they need. It may feel counter-intuitive in the moment, but fostering attachment between you and this person could be damaging. If this is a person you already know well and you’ll continue relating with, you may benefit from getting professional guidance.
Do get support for yourself
Respect the privacy of the information that was disclosed, but if you ever have a conversation that burdens you and you would like to process it further, reach out for appropriate support. Debriefing is healthy.
Don’t feel you should reciprocate vulnerability
When someone shares something vulnerable, it might feel natural to reciprocate by sharing your experiences and struggles. If someone asks something like: “Are you involved in this because you’ve had something like this happen to you?” You can say something like: “I think everyone has been through different things and these experiences motivate what we choose to do with our lives.” Reciprocating vulnerability could leave this person burdened in a time that they’re feeling vulnerable and encourage emotional attachments that simply aren’t sustainable and could be damaging.
Note: If you’re are a professional working with youth and would like to be better equipped to respond to disclosures, browse our guide for professionals.