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How to talk to survivors about sexual abuse

When you hear a loved one has experienced sexual abuse it can be difficult to know what to do. There aren’t any easy answers and the idea of saying the wrong thing can be terrifying.

You want to comfort them and provide support when they need it, but knowing what to say is a difficult proposition.

For survivors, even admitting they have been through sexual abuse can be hard. If they trust you enough to talk about it, it’s important to offer the support they need.

Here are a few ways you can support sexual abuse survivors:

Believe them

Don’t question it. Many survivors fear that no one will believe them. If you express skepticism or doubt, it only enforces that fear.

Recognize what the survivor is telling you, and take it seriously. Let them talk. Give them plenty of time and don’t push for details.

If they have not done so, help them research available resources.

Don’t get specific

Asking any “why” or “how” questions can feel like an interrogation.

Instead, offer support and gratitude towards a survivor for sharing. Don’t ask specific questions regarding the incident. Let the survivor share as much or as little as he or she wants.

Sharing can be incredibly difficult for a sexual abuse survivor. Accept the information they are willing to share and don’t press for more.

Be there

Make sure the survivor knows you are available to him or her. If they are sharing this information with you, they trust you.

Let them know you are willing to talk. Offer specific times to have a conversation or go for a walk. Invite him or her to go for coffee.

Show them you care about them. Little gestures like check-in texts can go a long way.

Validate their feelings

Survivors can sometimes try to minimize or downplay their feelings. This is a coping mechanism. They may tell you they shouldn’t feel bad about what happened or that they should have been over it by now.

Don’t let them.

Any feelings a survivor has are the right ones, and they don’t need to excuse anything. Reinforce that to him or her.

Speaking with sexual abuse survivors can be intimidating. You want to help, but don’t know how to address such a serious subject.

You don’t have to have answers for survivors. Just by being an attentive and supportive listener, you are helping.

If you know someone who is a sexual assault survivor, an experienced attorney can help them fight back.

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