Healing from sexual violence: How friends and family can help

Every 73 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S., which means it’s likely that you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence.

Talking about sexual assault is hard.

For many survivors, the reaction of the first person they disclose to, often a friend or family member can have a huge effect on their healing process.

Over the past 25 years, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the US’ largest anti-sexual violence organization, and has helped more than 3.2 million people, including many family and friends who are looking for guidance on how to help someone they care about.

About one-third of visitors to the hotline have never disclosed before.

As a result, many conversations become about disclosure — when it goes well, when it doesn’t, and when someone is thinking about disclosing and is worried about how someone in their life will react.

Despite a loved one’s best intentions, sometimes survivors feel blamed or questioned after telling someone they love, and this can make it hard to continue talking about what happened and to start healing.

Most of the time, loved ones of survivors want to do anything they can to help, but just aren’t sure what to do.

Whether someone you love has disclosed to you already, or you just want to make sure you’re prepared if the moment ever arises, take the time to proactively learn how to support a survivor as they disclose. It can make all the difference. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Don’t play detective – just listen

Many people are shocked and upset when they learn that someone they love has experienced sexual violence. They’re so worried about saying the wrong thing and so badly want to help that they start asking a lot of questions.

Even if you have good intentions, unfortunately, this isn’t helpful. Asking questions can make a survivor feel blamed or pressured into sharing more of their story than they’re comfortable with. It’s important to keep in mind that, if someone discloses an assault to you, they’re not looking for you to gather facts — they’re looking for your love and support.

Even if your instinct is to ask for more details, it’s best to avoid doing so. Simply listen to however much or little someone is comfortable sharing with you.

Recognise the importance of managing your own emotions

It’s normal to feel angry or upset that something has happened to someone you love — and you might even think that showing your feelings is a way of expressing that you care about them. However, this can be counterproductive.

If you become very upset when someone discloses to you, it can make them feel that they are responsible for your feelings.

Show you care by using supportive phrases, such as:

  • I believe you.
  • It’s not your fault.
  • You are not alone.
  • You didn’t do anything to deserve this.
  • Thank you for telling me this.
  • I am always here for you.

By managing your emotions, you can help remove this burden from the person who is disclosing so that they can focus on their own healing process. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , ,