5 Good Things to Say to Sexual Abuse Survivors
Written in collaboration with: “Zoe“
In my previous blog, my friend Zoe addressed 20+ of the wrong things to say to a sexual abuse survivor. On the flip side, there are 5 easy and simple responses or *good things* you can say to a friend or family member who confides in you. Additionally, there are a handful of right and wrong responses for children who share with you that they are victims of sexual abuse.
Zoe's Top 5 Good Things to Say When Someone Confides In YOU
There are responses you can offer a sexual abuse survivor to offer them comfort, support and even encouragement. A survivor herself, Zoe recommends her Top 5 list of ideal things to say when someone confides in you…
1) “I believe you!” Yes, this one tops the list! It doesn’t mean you have to understand, it just reassures the person that you believe her. Zoe captured this sentiment when she stated, “No one would ever want to live through abuse like we have. I don’t think many people could even make up what we’ve been through. If I were to share one-on-one with a friend, I would want them to just listen. I don’t need them to fix me, I just need to talk and be heard.”
2) “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” This genuine, heartfelt response shows empathy and really can mean the world to a survivor.
3) “I’m here to listen to as much or little as you’d like to share.” Sometimes, survivors will want to talk about their trauma… other times, they won't. If possible, try to be flexible and follow the survivor's lead in these discussions.
4) “Do you want to go to the police?” This can be a frightening proposition for many and often people who've been sexually abused will not want to seek police assistance. A great follow-up question and possible encouragement for the person to move forward and seek help is to ask, “Would you like me to go with you?” Please remember, if a child/youth tells you he/she is a victim of abuse, it is vital to share this information with proper authorities (read further… more information below). “Mandated reporters” (i.e., people that are required by law to report suspected child abuse) vary from state to state. I live in Indiana and our state law specifies that all adults are mandated reporters.
5) “What do you want to do next?” This could mean anything from accompanying the survivor to the police station or emergency room if an assault has recently taken place… to finding a good therapist… to just grabbing a cup of coffee and chatting.
As a side note, Zoe recommends being careful about *touch* when someone is revealing abuse. She says:
“It might be an automatic response to want to hug us or put your hand on our shoulder. Many of us can’t handle touch, and may even recoil at someone’s attempt to do so. Just ask first. Ask if you can hug us or put your hand on our shoulder… be okay with our answer if it’s ‘no', though. We need to be able to say ‘no'.”
Ginger's List of Things To Do When A Child Discloses Sexual Abuse
If a child discloses abuse to you, there are several right and wrong steps to take. Those include:
1) The same #1 as Zoe… BELIEVE the child! The truth will come out in the end, but this is an IMPORTANT POINT. Tremendous damage can be done to children when they disclose abuse to a trusted party and that person reacts with doubt, suspicion or defiance.
2) Collect some details from the child, but avoid having him share too many specifics with you — that should be explored later, ideally with a trained child forensic interviewer. Do, though, ask him to tell you:
1. Who did it?
2. What happened? (Again, gather general detail, but DO NOT have him delve into too many specifics.)
3. Where did it happen?
4. When did it happen?
3) Make sure the accused perpetrator has NO access to the child! If the accused perpetrator is in the same location as the child (e.g., at home, school, etc.), immediately remove her from the premises.
4) Immediately contact your local Child Protective Services Department or law enforcement. Hopefully, you live in an area with a Child Advocacy Center where your child can be interviewed about the alleged abuse in a safe, neutral, child-friendly environment. You can also contact the National Child Abuse Hotline and they will connect you with the proper authorities in your area.
5) Insist on a “wellness exam” by a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) medical professional. These specially trained doctors and nurses conduct physical exams of children who are alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse in a non-threatening, child-friendly manner and environment. They are uniquely trained to conduct child forensic examinations and determine the presence or absence of signs of abuse. I can't emphasize this enough… please DO NOT take your child to his pediatrician unless the pediatrician or someone on staff has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification. Work through your local Child Advocacy Center to connect with a SART or SANE medical professional.
6) Ensure your child has proper professional follow-up with a victims' advocate or therapist. This is essential! Abuse can leave lifelong scars and impact your child's emotional and psychological development. It's imperative you ensure she has access to the professional support and counseling she needs for as long as she needs it.
How about you?
Have you had this conversation with a friend, loved one or child? What did you say? How did they respond? Was the conversation helpful or did it elicit a negative response? What other ideas or suggestions do you have to add to this list? Zoe and I are eager to hear your thoughts and know about any other things you've tried… your ideas could help others navigate through an often turbulent time for sexual abuse survivors.
Zoe is a survivor of multiple types of abuse… sexual, physical, psychological and torture. She keeps her true identity concealed as her abusers are still around. Courageously, Zoe is speaking out about being a survivor and tells her story through her blog, “Behind The Mask Of Abuse“. While sharing her personal perspectives, Zoe encourages other abuse survivors to know they are “not alone”. As she continues her journey of healing, she is married to the love of her life for 10 years now and is mama to a couple of pets she adores! As a creative outlet, she recently started another blog, “We Poets Show It“.
Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.
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