How to support an affected family member or friend
What to say?
- “It wasn’t your fault”
- “I’m sorry this has happened to you”
- “You did the right thing telling me”
- “I understand if you don’t feel like talking about it right now, but I am here for you”
- “I know this is hard to talk about”
- DO ensure current safety, is anyone involved at risk of further abuse?
- DO listen non-judgementally and give your full attention
DO believe and validate, reassure the feelings they may be experiencing are normal
DO acknowledge and support how they are feeling rather than offering advice. Use the person’s own words (especially sexual terms). Go at their pace.
DO respect their right to confidentiality and to understand that they may not want to talk.
DO respect that they may or may not wish to be held or touched. Ask first.
DO support the decisions they make both past and present, including choices around reporting to the police.
- DO link them into support services that can help and offer counselling. In New Zealand, ACC Sensitive Claims can help subsidise the cost of counselling for victims of sexual abuse.
- DO be aware of your own feelings. As a friend/family member you will also experience secondary or vicarious trauma. Talk to someone you trust about these, and get support and counselling for yourself if needed. Helping yourself also helps your friend/family member.
- Learn about the myths about rape and sexual violence. Society still holds many beliefs about rape which support the offender and blame the victim – instead of asking “why did you rape?” society asks – “why were you wearing that?” “Why were you drinking?” “Why were you walking there?” “Why didn’t you lock your door?” “Why didn’t you scream?”