Last week, we spoke about what we should never tell someone who has been sexually abused.
Well then, what can we say? How can we be helpful and not hurtful or judgmental?
For a victim of sexual abuse to confide her/his secret to anyone might be one of the hardest things any survivor can do. Coming out into the open with this secret is not an easy task. The fear of what people will think; the fear that they will not believe him/her, or the erroneous idea that they will be blamed for the abuse prevents many survivors from divulging their secret.
Well, let’s put a few things straight before we go into what we can say to a survivor.
Don’t take the fact that the survivor decided to trust you with his/ her secret lightly. This is, in fact, a great honor for you as a listener.
When a survivor decides to entrust you with this burden that he/she might have been carrying for months, years or maybe even decades, don’t look at your phone, don’t look away; do give the survivor your full attention.
Survivors are heroes, that’s why they are called survivors, not victims.
Here are some helpful hints of things you might say:
- It must have made you feel _______________ (reflect their demeanor/feelings)
When sexual abuse happens, many feelings race through the victim’s mind such as fear, anger, guilt or shame; rejection; abandonment; disgust, sadness, and confusion.
Please don’t say, ‘I know how you feel,’ if you have not been sexually abused yourself. You can never really know.
- What would you like me to know about it?
Be sensitive to the victim’s timing in telling you. Don’t push for details and don’t ask to know anything that the victim is not ready to say to you. Respect is crucial here.
- I believe you
This is pivotal. The predator Probably communicated to the victim that no one will believe them and they bought into the lie. Saying those words, ‘I believe you,’ actually starts the recovery process.
- I believe that it hurt you
Again acknowledging that being violated was a painful experience. Give the survivor time to mourn his/her loss.
- It’s good for you to talk about your memories, thoughts, and feelings
You might think it does more damage than good when the victim talks about his/her memories. In fact, this is also part of recovery. This is not gnawing at what happened, but it helps the victim put the abuse into perspective.
- I’m interested to hear more when you are ready
Respect the victim’s timetable.
- I support you
Say this only if you really mean it. But, at the same time, put boundaries. Some victims can become very clingy.
- You can take your time to heal
Healing is like an onion, it happens in layers. Every victim has a different timetable. You cannot rush healing or recovery.
- What would help you the most right now?
This question might actually surprise the victim, but it is a way of putting the victim in control of the current situation which empowers them to trust again.
- This wasn’t your fault. You didn’t cause it
This is why my non-profit is called Not Guilty because it is never the victim’s fault that abuse happens. I end every session with these words. I want my patients to hear the words until they actually permeate their whole being; until they actually believe them to be true for them.
- You are beautiful
Sexual abuse makes the victim feel like he/she is used goods. It makes them feel dirty and unlovable.
Once at a youth camp, unbeknown to me, I greeted one of the girls with a hug. Her reaction caught me by surprise. ‘This is the first clean hug I get in a long time.’ How sad!
Another 9-year-old patient started her first session and before I even said hello she blurted out, ‘I am ugly, I am nosy, I don’t respect others, and I am going to hell.’
I told her, ‘do you know what the Bible says about you? It says, “I am black and beautiful. “’
Because she goes to a Christian school, she beamed when she heard my words.
- 12. The abuse happened to you, but it’s not who you are. It does not define your identity
One of my patients told me, ‘I was created to be abused.’ This is one of the biggest lies that Satan uses: to attack your identity according to what happened to you.
If you have been abused, if you are gay or lesbian, if you are a porn addict, or an alcoholic or a drug addict, if you are cutting, THIS IS NOT YOUR IDENTITY.
Jesus says that:
- You are His own special possession. (1 Peter 2:9, Deuteronomy 14:2)
- You are chosen, handpicked by the God who created the universe. (1 Peter 2:9, Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:3-4)
- You are treasured. (Deuteronomy 7:6 14:2, 26:18)
- You are irreplaceable. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
- You are loved beyond compare. (1 John 4:19, 4:10, 3:16, Romans 5:8, 8:35-39)
- You are worth dying for. (1 John 3:16, Romans 5:7-9)
- You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1, 33-39)
- You are His child. (1 John 3:1, Galatians 3:26)
- You are secured for all eternity. (2 Corinthians 1:22, John 10:28-29)
- You are set free. (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5:1)
- You are precious to Him. (Isaiah 43:4)
- You are set apart. (John 15:16, 19, I Peter 2:9)
Remember that forewarned is forearmed.
If you have questions, contact us.