Victims of sexual abuse carry immeasurable pain. They might be coping in their daily lives, but it’s not without a heavy burden on their psyche. The guilt and shame from being overpowered by their abuser, coupled with haunting flashbacks or nightmares can take a toll one someone living with this secret for years.
It’s therefore not surprising that a survivor’s ability to break their silence partly depends on finding someone they can trust.
So what can you do to help someone who confides in you their history of abuse?
1. It’s not their fault. Abuse victims can often shift the blame onto themselves by conjuring up ways that they might have incited an incident or given the perpetrator signals that the attention was wanted. But no matter how strongly self-blame props its ugly head, a child can’t be held responsible for their perpetrator’s actions. Remind them that it’s not their fault.
2. Don’t interrupt. Be a good listener. Staying calm, rather than cutting in in anger or with questions you can ask later will help create a safe environment where they can speak freely.
3. Don’t judge. What happened is in the past. You weren’t present, so it’s too late to ask “Why didn’t you do/ask/think?” now. Accept that someone deeply hurt a person you care about and they did what they believed to be right at the time.
4. Ask what you can do to help. Do they need advice, counselling, or help taking legal action? If these sound overwhelming, could they benefit from better self-care if this is something they have neglected? More sleep, some time off, an afternoon at the spa, or practicing expressive or artistic activities such as drawing or dancing can rejuvenate and detox the mind.
5. Find support. If they’ve been carrying this for a long time without any help, it may be time to join a group or program. Visit our Resources page for a list of vetted programs with chapters across the U.S.
Hearing of a loved one’s abuse for the first time isn’t easy.
But when you validate their experiences, you can empower them to take proper steps that will have a lasting impact.