Anyone who has experienced sexual violence needs to be listened to and believed, whether they have just been attacked, or are talking about events that happened some time ago, for example, in childhood.
You can help in many ways:
Listen to what they have to say in their own time. It might not be easy to start talking about something that has been hidden for a long time. The abuser may have threatened them to stay silent.
Believe. People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. Why would they? It is important to believe what they are saying.
Respect their feelings and decisions. Crying can be part of the healing process.
Remember it is not their fault - no-one asks to be abused or deserves it and cannot be blamed for being unable to prevent the abuse.
Recognise the courage it takes for someone to speak. It takes a great deal to face up to fears and to talk about any experience of sexual violence. It can be important for friends and family members to acknowledge the courage it has taken for someone to speak about what happened.
Some helpful things that you might say might include:
- I believe you
- This is not your fault
- How can I help?
- I’m here for you whether you want to talk or not
Don’t tell them to forget about it.
Don't say, “It happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take time and some people block or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a TV programme, marriage, changing job, starting a new relationship and so on.
Don’t ask them why they didn’t fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation.
Don’t ask why they didn’t say anything sooner. If it happened when they were young they may have tried to tell but been ignored or disbelieved. They may have been threatened or been too frightened to say anything. Most people do try to tell someone at some time.
Don’t tell them what to do. They need to be in control of the decisions about matters which affect them. You can help them to explore options available.
Don’t pressure them into doing or talking about things they are not ready to face. When they are ready they will speak.
If your partner has recently been attacked or has remembered some past abuse which they have blocked out, they may find sexual and intimate contact difficult. It is important to realise that this is not something to do with you. It is to do with the feelings and memories they have. Reassure them and let them take things at their own pace. With your help, patience and understanding, they can heal from the trauma.
Seeing someone you care about dealing with a traumatic experience can be distressing. It is important that you get support for yourself. Without such support, it can be really hard for you to be there for your partner, friend or family member.
Contact us for phone or email support: 01896 661 070, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you witness an act of sexual violence you can help be being an involved bystander. Check out our bystander section for more information about what this means!