Someone’s Gotta Say It


After Awareness, the Empathy Begins: Tools for Being a Good Ally

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Monthly ribbons are visible reminders of important issues, yet they fail to capture the depth and complexity of challenges faced by survivors and advocates.

Once we’re aware, what happens next?

In this social media culture where people share photos of their meals (photo first, then eat!), it feels like people in the US over-share. And yet… as open as we may appear, some personal matters are difficult to talk about, even with loved ones: life-threatening illness, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment and assault, scams and sextortion. These conjure feelings of fear, shame, self-blame and vulnerability. When these emotions simmer amidst life’s daily challenges, social connections and feelings of belonging are often threatened.

Why is the person who experienced harm – be it medical, physical, sexual, financial – often reluctant to tell those closest to them? The most common reasons are embarrassment and fear of the response(s) they will receive. The questions: why were you…? what were you…? I told you…

Teens and young adults are especially fearful of disclosing abuse.

To Be An Ally, Begin Before Something Happens

It all starts with knowing yourself. You don’t have to be a superhero – just being there is often enough. An ally is not responsible for fixing anything. Resist the urge to “problem solve.” A safe, calm presence is most important.

And if crisis situations aren’t your thing, that’s okay. But it’s worth thinking about how you might handle them in advance.

Let your friends and family know that you’re there for them, no matter what. Make it clear that you won’t judge or lecture. Remember, just like the pickpocket is responsible for lifting a wallet, the person who harasses, assaults, or abuses is responsible for their actions. So, avoid questions like “What were you wearing?” or “Why didn’t you do ‘this’?”

The best allies:

  • Are trustworthy.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Respond, don’t react: Remain calm, absorb their heavier energy to help release traumatic stress.
  • Keep information confidential. “It’s not my story to share” is a good reminder.
  • Are patient. Recognize that it takes a lot of time to work through what’s happened. It is different for each person.

First Things First

1. Believe and Validate

When someone opens up to you, start by letting them know you believe them and that you’re there to support them. For example: “I believe you, and I’m here to support you in any way I can.”

2. Listen Without Judgment

Listen actively, reflect their feelings, and let them share at their own pace. Avoid pressuring them to disclose more than they’re comfortable with. For example: “It sounds like you’re feeling scared/angry/sad. Is that accurate?”

3. Respect Their Autonomy

Offer options, respect their choices, and empower them to make their own decisions. For example: “What do you want/need right now?” “There are different paths you can take from here. Let me know how I can support you in your decisions.”

4. Offer Practical Support

When communicating, remember that it’s not just about the words – body language and tone of voice matter too. You might: remind them of importance of sound sleep; offer a place where they can feel safe to sleep undisturbed. Encourage hydration; the body needs water to be healthy – physically and mentally. Offer to accompany them to appointments, provide resources, and help with everyday tasks to ease their burden.

5. Educate Yourself

Learn about trauma, understand available resources, and offer informed support. For example: “I’ve researched some local support services that you might find helpful.”

6. Practice Self-Care

If you are a partner, parent, or roommate, this experience will impact your daily life. Set boundaries, take breaks, and seek support for yourself when needed.


When someone trusts you enough to share their experience of abuse or assault, it’s crucial to listen without judgment and validate their feelings. It’s not about having all the answers or offering solutions; it’s about being a compassionate presence and letting them know they are not alone.

Calm can be just as contagious as fear and stress. So, breathe deeply and keep yourself steady.

By being a supportive ally, you can make a real difference in someone’s life. So, let’s stand together and create a culture of empathy, support, and understanding for all survivors.