Recently, sexual abuse seems to be dominating the headlines, from sexual assaults by members of the clergy to abuse in long-term care facilities.
While this coverage may be shining a spotlight on an issue that has been covered up or, worse, ignored for far too long, it’s often not easy for survivors of sexual abuse to cope with these constant reminders of their own traumas.
What You Can Do to Help
If you are a friend or family member of a sexual abuse survivor, you may not fully understand what your loved one is going through. That doesn’t mean you can’t help. Here are some things you can do to support an individual who has been sexually abused.
- Be Patient: Recognize that recovery is a long process that’s never truly over. Survivors need to acknowledge what has happened to them, identify any repercussions, resolve their own feelings about the abuse and the abuser, stop negative behaviors, and eventually reclaim their own lives – all of which take time.
- Be a Partner: Because recovering from sexual abuse is a lengthy process, let your loved one know you’ll remain by their side as they work through their feelings. Tell them you’re happy to give them some space if they want to be alone. Ask them if they need anything. While they may not have an answer, just asking makes it clear that you’re continuing to be supportive.
- Listen: Let your loved one know you’re willing to listen when they are ready to talk. It’s not always easy for a survivor to talk about the abuse they faced, so don’t pressure them to “open up.” Just knowing you’re there is enough. When the survivor is ready to talk, don’t inject your own feelings of anger or sadness, or try to fix the problem or give advice. Your job is simply to listen.
- Encourage: While it’s up to your loved one to make decisions about their own healing process, encourage them to get support when they’re ready. That could include psychotherapy, sex therapy, support groups, a crisis hot line, or even talking to other loved ones. You can even offer to take them to appointments, talk afterwards, or join in a session.
Beyond Direct Support
You can also help by educating yourself about sexual abuse. There are no shortage of articles, books, and even podcasts offering advice on how to support sexual abuse survivors. Remember: it’s not the responsibility of a survivor to educate you.
As part of the healing process, you might also encourage a sexual abuse survivor to contact an attorney who can determine whether or not the statute of limitations on a potential claim is still in effect. If so, the survivor potentially can bring a claim against the abuser. If not, there are still certain legal remedies that can be pursued.