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Eight ways to support a friend who has been sexually abused

Girl Talk
 Give them a shoulder to lean on as they go through the healing process (Photo: Shutterstock)

Sexual abuse is traumatic for anyone who has experienced it. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been in the same situation to fully understand how it affects a victim’s life.

Even though their experience isn’t necessarily yours, there is a still a lot you can do to help a friend or relative who has been sexually violated.

Below are some of the key steps to take when dealing with someone who has been through a sexually traumatic event.

i. Don’t blame them

There is a culture in society of victim blaming. What we all need to understand is that no one asks to be violated. The moment your friend feels blamed, they will lose all the trust and confidence they had in you. This isn’t the time to start pointing fingers at them. Always take their side and help them start the process of healing.

ii. Don’t minimize what they have been through

Avoid using words like ‘at least nothing else happened,’ ‘your experience isn’t as bad compared to,’ or ‘it’s not that serious’, when dealing with a victim. Making those comments will actually add to their trauma and make them feel shame even though it was never their fault. Someone who has been sexually assaulted already feels deep shame so it’s better to have more compassion for them. Think about it, if you were in that situation, how would you like to be treated? Then, treat them accordingly.

iii. Don’t force them to talk about what happened

You might be coming from a place of genuine concern but you should always approach that situation with wisdom. Keep in mind that they are deeply traumatized and trying to come to terms with what happened, which isn’t an easy process. Let them take the lead and only talk about it when they mention it. Don’t push it out of them until they are ready to address it.

iv. Listen without interrupting

When they are finally ready to talk about it, allow them to vent without interrupting. Listening patiently. Avoid judgmental comments or ones made without hearing the full story. Also, having a friend who listens to them carefully is therapeutic.

 Victims of sexual abuse are vulnerable and can often experience depression (Photo: Shutterstock)

v. Ask how you can help

Allow your friend to decide how you can help them. Don’t pressure them to take certain steps because at the end of the day, they’re the ones dealing with the trauma. Let them decide how they want to handle the matter when they’re ready. It’s okay to suggest a way forward but don’t be forceful with your approach.

vi. Check up on them

Help your friend recover by checking up on them often. Give them enough space for self-healing and at the same time don’t let them isolate themselves. Victims of sexual abuse are vulnerable and can often experience depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and suicidal thoughts. You’ll be surprised how a simple call or text can cheer them up instantly.

vii. Spend time with them

Other than calling and texting them, spend time with your friend without complaining. Understand that they feel safer with you around until they are ready to be independent again. Your company is vital for their healing. Do your best to be there for them by spending time with them more often.

viii. Reassure them that everything will be okay

One of the most effective ways to help a friend who has been abused is by encouraging them. They might feel like there is no more hope for recovery but they need to know that things will be okay despite what happened. Let them hear your reassuring word as someone they fully trust. This will help them feel loved and accepted by someone they trust.

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