Hearing that someone close to you has been sexually abused can come as a shock, but it’s nothing worse than the internal panic/stress/anxiety they are going through.
The victim is already afraid . . .
- you won’t believe them
- it’ll change your perception of him/her or how you treat them
- it really is their fault
- that you’ll blame them for the abuse
- that you’ll brush it off as no big deal
- it’ll break up family relationships or friendships
- they’ll have to see their abuser again
So, what do you do when someone confides in you about current or past sexual abuse?
Listen to them and believe them. They need to be able to trust you, and have trusted you enough to open up to you. Let them talk and tell you as much or as little as they want. Take this seriously.
Tell them it’s not their fault. They need to know they are not to blame for someone else’s actions. Do not further the damage by insinuating any part of their actions led to the abuse! Do not ask if they were drinking alcohol, what they were wearing, or if they were somewhere they should not have been.
They’re likely already blaming themselves regardless of the situation. Being sexually abused is NEVER the fault of the victim. Never.
Be a safe person for them. They need to know you not only take them seriously, but that you will help if then if needed. If they need you to help them make difficult calls to police, to find a therapist, talk with a bishop or other church leader about getting help, etc., please be willing to step up and offer assistance. Go with them; literally or figuratively hold their hand.
Treat them the same as before. If you must treat them any differently, make sure it’s only with increased love and gentleness.
Tell them they are still beautiful, worthy, lovable, pure, virtuous, and that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them.
Don’t expect them to just “get over it” or heal over night. Even if the abuse happened years ago, healing can take months or years. And even then, there may be memories or triggers that set them on a downward spiral. This doesn’t mean they haven’t made progress, because any step forward is progress.
If you are a parent of a victim, please do all of the above and make sure they get adequate help, professionally and spiritually. Do not make them see their abuser again, even if it’s family (this can be especially tricky if the abuser is a parent or sibling. Help for all involved may be required and should be handled delicately, yet seriously). Seeing their abuser again can cause some victims to feel as if the abuse is happening all over again. Seek guidance from professionals as well as Heavenly Father to know what is best for your child. Pay special attention to any behavior changes and work and pray to find out what you need to do to help your child heal. Do not ignore it. Do not be passive, taking little or no action–this will create even more problems.
The best thing you can do is be there for them, emotionally and physically. They may need to talk, or they simply need to know you’re there and you care. For me, I sometimes need someone to talk with to sort out my “crazy” – a listening ear, or sound advice, or to figure it out as I talk. Everyone is different, so try to pick up on their cues as to what may be most helpful.
In some situations, you may not be able to help at all. And that’s okay. Sometimes they need more of a professional intervention, and you’ll have to step back, yet let them know you’re still there for them.
This is not meant to be an all inclusive list, but hopefully a helpful start. Each individual’s needs will vary. Reach out to various resources and work to find the answer that is right for the person you are helping. Seek the guidance of Heavenly Father; He can help lead you to know how to best help your friend or family member.