We’re used to reaching out to our friends in time of need. Discussing our fears, our hopes and sometimes our darkest secrets. It’s part of being in a happy, healthy friendship. We all need someone who can be our advocate and listen to us without judgment in a safe and secure environment.
But when that friend comes to you and shares their experience of being sexually assaulted or abused, it can be difficult to know what to say. How to react. And how to provide the comfort and reassurance that they need.
Support means different things to different people. Some may prefer a listening ear, others might want your advice, others might want your support through a police investigation or a personal injury case – if you know someone affected by the Boy Scouts case, click the link.
Whatever your friend needs, it’s important to take the lead from them. However, there are some specific ways you can provide support, let them know that you’re on their side and be ready to help them through this difficult time.
Here we’ll explore how to talk to someone who has been the victim of sexual abuse.
I believe you
The strength it takes to come forward and talk about a sexual assault is immeasurable. Your friend will be juggling all kinds of emotions such as anger, shame and even guilt. As a friend, it’s not your job to question why these things happened, but to support them. Letting them know that you believe them is the single most compassionate thing you can do for them right now.
Remember that recovery has no time limit
There’s nothing more devastating than watching a friend go through something like recounting what happened to them. We want them to get better and to move on. We want them to be happy. Although these feelings come from a good place, you need to remember that the mental recovery from a sexual assault has no time limit. Asking them “when they’ll recover”, or “when do you think you’ll be back to normal?”, isn’t helpful. Avoid phrases like these at all costs.
Tell them it wasn’t their fault
Many sexual abuse survivors can experience guilt. And believe that for whatever reason, they were to blame for what happened to them. This is often the case if they know who hurt them. As a friend, make sure you remind them that what happened to them was certainly not their fault. They may struggle to believe you but keep gently reminding them.
Offer to be there
Maybe they want to tell their family, speak with the police, or a lawyer, perhaps they need to have medical appointments. Whatever they choose to do next, assure them that you’ll be there if they wish. They may not want you to be there in person but offering to support them will go a long way to helping them find justice and coming to terms with what happened.
If you know someone who has been sexually abused either recently or historically, then support them any way you can. Urge them to seek advice from sexual abuse charities, the police and to practice self-care.