A Dozen Ways to Help a Loved One
1 – Educate yourself about sexual abuse/rape and the healing process.
If you have a basic idea of what the survivor is going through, it will help you to be supportive. There are many good information sites on the internet. Talk with other survivors and supporters of survivors. Many are willing to share what has helped them, or can give you ideas on how to deal with a certain situation.
2 – Believe the survivor.
Even if they sometimes doubt themselves, even if their memories are vague, even if what they tell you sounds too extreme, believe them. Survivors don’t make up stories of sexual abuse or rape. Let them know that you are open to hearing anything they wish to share, and that although it’s painful and upsetting, you are willing to enter those difficult places with them and to receive their words with respect.
3 – Validate the survivor’s feelings: their anger, pain, and fear.
These are natural, healthy responses. They need to feel them, express them, and be herd.
4 – Join with the survivor in validating the damage.
All sexual abuse & rape is harmful. Even if it’s not violent, overtly physical, or repeated, all abuse & rape has serious consequences. There is no positive or neutral experience of sexual abuse or rape.
5 – Be clear that the abuse or rape was NOT the survivors fault.
No one asks to be abused or raped. The survivor did what they had to do to survive. It is always the fault of the perpetrator.
6 – Don’t sympathize with the abuser.
The survivor needs your absolute loyalty.
7 – Express your compassion.
If you have feelings of outrage, compassion, pain for their pain, do share them. There is probably nothing more comforting than a genuine human response. Just make sure your feelings don’t overwhelm theirs.
8 – Respect the time and space it takes to heal.
Healing is a slow process that can’t be hurried.
9 – Encourage the survivor to get support.
In addition to offering your own caring, encourage them to reach out to others. Get support for yourself. You will have many feeling about the abuse or rape also. Get support for yourself. You need to take care of yourself so you can be there for the survivor.
10 – Get help if the survivor is suicidal.
Most survivors are not suicidal, but sometimes the pain of the abuse or rape is so devastating that the survivor may want to kill themselves. If you are close to a survivor who is suicidal, get help immediately.
11 – Resist seeing the survivor as a victim.
Continue to see them as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming their own life.
12 – Accept that there will very likely be major changes in your relationship with the survivor as they heal.
They are changing, and as they do, you may need to change in response.
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