Responding when a loved one experiences sexual abuse
It can be hard to know how you should respond when a friend, family member or partner has experienced sexual abuse. Responding well when a loved one tells you about sexual abuse can make a difference in their recovery. You show support by staying calm, listening, believing, and not blaming them for what happened.
How can you help a loved one who has experienced sexual abuse?
- Believe them. When someone tells you about the sexual abuse they have experienced, you should believe them and say so out loud.
- Listen. Listen without interrupting or speaking too much. It’s normal to want to ask lots of questions but that can make the person feel bad and can make it sound like you blame them for what happened.
- Never blame the person for what happened. Sexual abuse is never the fault of the person who experienced it. It doesn’t matter what people are wearing, whether they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or what their relationship is to the person who inflicted the abuse, sexual abuse is never OK.
- Let them express their feelings. Let the person cry, scream or be silent if they want to. It can be uncomfortable, but it is important that they are able to express difficult emotions.
- Ask before you touch. Many people who have experienced sexual abuse find touch uncomfortable, especially shortly after the offence. Ask whether you can hug them; that also gives them the crucial power to say yes or no.
- Offer help. It’s good to encourage people to seek out help, for example at Bjarkarhlíð, but the decision must always be theirs. Offer to look up where they can seek help and to accompany them to a consultation.
Remember to show patience; the recovery process can take a long time.
Take care of yourself
It’s normal to become agitated when a loved one or family member experiences abuse. You might experience emotions like anger, shock, guilt, and powerlessness. It’s important for you to also think about your own well-being. Loved ones of abuse victims can also receive support and counselling at Stígamót.