Making time to listen without judging, criticising or questioning.
Not forcing them to talk. Be patient.
Reassuring them that no one has the right to rape or abuse and that every person has the right to be safe, in all circumstances.
Understanding that survivors can experience a range of different reactions and emotions. They may feel calm and controlled, or feel nothing or numb. They may feel anger, guilt or worthlessness and they may feel suicidal. These are a natural response to their experience. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way for a survivor to react – and whichever way they do react is ok.
Belive – they need you to believe. People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. It is important to believe.
Respect – their feelings and decisions. If they start to cry let them. It can be part of their healing process.
Remember – they are not to blame. No one wants or deserves to be abused. The blame always lies with the abuser, not the survivor.
Recognise – the courage it takes for them to speak out. This must be respected and praised.
Empower – survivors who has experienced sexual violence may feel that they have no control over what is happening to them and how they are feeling. A major step towards healing is for them to regain a sense of control over their life.
Tell them what to do – They need to be in control. You can help to explore options that are available to them.
Tell them to forget – don’t tell them to ‘forget about it and get over it’, or say “It happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take a long time and some people block out or try to forget traumatic events as a way of coping. Remembering can be triggered by events such as marriage, changing job, the birth of a baby, starting a new relationship, or even smells, colours or sounds.
Ask them why they didn’t fight back – people can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation. Also, it can be the safest thing not to fight back. They have nothing to justify to anyone. (See the video above)
Ask why they didn’t say anything sooner – If it happened when they were young, they may have tried to tell someone but have been ignored or disbelieved. They may not have been able to understand or describe what happened to them. They may have felt entirely to blame for the abuse, have been threatened or have been too frightened to say anything. Most people do try to tell someone at some point.
Cast doubt on what they tell you – Do listen and believe them and be accepting of the way they are reacting. The fact that you are listening and believing DOES help.
• To make time to look after yourself. YOU are important too.
• You might feel helpless at times, but just being there is important in itself.
• To be gentle with yourself.
• That you may need support too, so that you can continue to be supportive. It can be hard to see someone you care about in pain and distress. Being able to talk to someone in confidence can make a big difference.