When a Loved One is a Survivor of Sexual Trauma
By: Theresa Zephirin, LCSW | Therapist
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief, who can tolerate not knowing, not healing, not curing, that is a friend who cares” –Henri Nouwan
When someone finds out that a loved one has been assaulted or abused it can be devastating. Whether you are a family member, partner, and/or friend you may not know how to handle the news or be sure what actions to take. Here are some tips to help you along the way:
Listen in a way that is non-judgmental: When someone we love is struggling or hurting we may feel the need to fix the problem and give solutions. Survivors just need someone that will listen to them with an open heart and not judge their story.
Give compassionate and validating responses: Often curiosity may take over and you may want to ask a lot of questions. As you listen to their story with an open heart, give compassionate and validating responses. Focus on phrases like: “I am so sorry that happened to you,” “You must have been so scared,” or “Thank you for feeling safe to tell me your story.” Survivors may still be struggling with feelings of shame or guilt around what occurred. Questions about details, what they were doing, what they were wearing, etc. are blaming and inappropriate. They will share what they need to when they are ready.
Believing their story: It is difficult for someone to be vulnerable and share their story. Sometimes they struggle with their own doubt. Believing them and their story is one of the most validating things you could do.
Be patient with the process: Healing is a life long journey. It’s important to be patient and meet them where they are.
Take care of your own needs: You may have your own feelings about your loved one being hurt. Feelings of shock, guilt, or self-blame are normal. Do what you need to for your own self care. Counseling is available to you as well, so reach out and engage any resource that resonates.