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How to Support Those Affected by Sexual Abuse

Thursday, January 25, 2018 9:16 AM

There is no timetable for recovering from sexual abuse and the healing process looks different for everyone. If someone you care about becomes a victim of sexual assault or harassment, you may feel angered and confused, but he or she needs your help in the healing process. NorthShore's Individual & Relational Psychotherapy experts give advice on providing proper support for victims.


Create a safe environment: Reinforce to the victim that you are a member of his or her support system. Build a system of openness and trust in a calm, nonjudgmental setting. When creating a safe space, stress it is not their fault, they are not alone and they did not deserve what happened.

Be mindful of your words: Again, reinforce to the victim it is not his or her fault. Stay away from words that may indicate judgment, as in “Why didn’t you do XYZ?” You want the victim to speak freely without sensing shame or blame.

Here is a list of phrases Neely Benn, suggests:

  • “I believe you. It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
  • “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
  • “You are not alone. I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
  • “I’m sorry this happened. This shouldn’t have happened to you.”

Actively listen:  Be present and listen to what the victim is saying. You want them to feel they can open and share what may be one of the darkest moments in their life. Try to understand the victim’s fears, but also know your own limits in how much of the discussion you can handle.

Find Support: Once you have reached your threshold in the discussion, help them find resources in the area like support or therapy groups. Give them the support they need while directing them to proper care.

The sad truth is every 98 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted; therefore someone you care about has been or may become a victim. If someone confides in you, you can help him or her find proper support.