Your friend or loved one has just informed you that she has been sexually abused.
So many things start running through your mind.
How do I help her?
You authentically want to offer her support, but you have no idea what to do or how to proceed.
To get started, it’s important to know that sexual abuse is one of the worst nightmares any woman can face no matter their age, personality, or profession. The trauma resulting from the experience can be shattering even to the strongest of us and can leave scars that take months and years to heal.
Sometimes they never heal…
Nonetheless, she has trusted you with her story.
Never, and I mean never, invalidate her experience.
She will experience enough of that from the external world. The best thing that you can do for her is lend a listening ear and provide a safe space for her to be vulnerable.
Sadly, sexual assault affects one in four women. Recovering from the trauma of sexual abuse can be difficult, but it is definitely possible. With the right people and the right approach, you can support your friend and assist her with regaining self-confidence and happiness.
In order to do this, there are somethings that you must be willing to look for to be successful.
Beware of that sense of guilt! It often crushes the survivor’s spirit and leaves them feeling demoralized. Survivors will blame themselves for being at the wrong place, hanging out with the wrong person, for wearing the wrong clothes, etc. They often do not know that it is not their fault. Help them to free themselves from feelings of guilt. Society often shames assault survivors with questions like “why were you out so late?” and “what did you think he wanted?” It is important NOT TO DO THAT!
Depression often follows feelings of guilt.
Symptoms may include
- social withdrawal
- self reports of feelings of helplessness
- loss of appetite or sleep
- excessive crying
- mood swings
- thoughts of self-harm and\or suicidal thoughts.
These symptoms, if not closely examined, can take over the lives of these survivors of assault. It is important that you validate them and let them know that you care about them and want to help.
There’s also that feeling that the survivor could have prevented the attack. They think that they could have fought back or done something differently. People often feel as if they did something to invite the attack, such as associate with the attacker, or wore provocative clothing. It is important to help your friend to focus on forgiving themselves for being hurt, but reinforce that it is not their fault.
Don’t force your friend to make a report because the legal system often re-victimizes the client. With the constant questioning along with their approach to receiving evidence, victims often feel like they are on trial rather than their attacker. Also, it is very difficult to prove a sexual assault in the ways that the courts respect.
Help your friend find professional support. Most counties have a rape crisis center. You may also call the National Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
All trauma is difficult to manage. Sexual trauma is no different. If you think your friend could use some direct support, please contact us at 844 – My Tech Talk.