Sexual Abuse

How can I help a friend?

Here are some important guidelines to remember, as you try to be a supportive friend to a survivor of sexual abuse:

Believe the survivor, even if she/he doubts herself or her memories are vague. Doubting or questioning a survivor's story can be devastating. Many survivors are afraid to believe their own memories. They have difficulty admitting the truth to themselves, and even more difficulty sharing that truth with someone else.

Let her know that you are willing to listen and hear whatever she/he is willing to share and that you can be trusted not to repeat it to others.  It is extremely important that you respect your friend's confidentiality. Even if your intentions are "good" and you want to tell others  so they can support or pray for your friend, telling others without your friend's permission is a violation of trust. However, if your friend is suicidal but refuses to get professional help, you must break their confidentiality and seek help from an appropriate agency. If your friend is a Messiah student, contact your RD or Counseling Services immediately.

Don't try to tell the survivor what she/he should feel or do. Allow her to express her feelings, whatever they are. There is no right or wrong way to feel- and survivors' emotions can be intense and conflicting. They may feel things which don't make sense to you or are confusing. Offer your friend a safe and nonjudgmental place to talk- it's one of the very best ways you can help them. Don't pressure your friend to confront their abuser or deal with the abuse in one specific way. Instead, support them as they try to find the path that is best for them.

Don't overwhelm your friend with your own feelings. Many of us feel angry and even enraged when we learn about a friend's abuse, but it's important to not overwhelm your friend with your own intense emotions. Many survivors have deeply conflicted feelings about the person who abused them, especially when that person is a close member of their family. It can be frightening for them to hear how intensely angry you are at someone they love. They may feel guilty about telling you about their abuse and their abuser.  They also may feel guilty that they've wounded and distressed you.

It is important to respect the time it takes to heal. Healing is a very individual process and can't be rushed. Reassure your friend that you will not get tired of hearing about their feelings, and let them know that you aren't expecting them to recover at any pace other than their own.

Assure your friend that she or he was not responsible for the abuse. Quite often survivors of sexual abuse blame themselves and suffer from feelings of guilt. No child or teen seduces an abuser. Children and teens, like adults,  ask for affection and attention, not sexual abuse. In addition, don't sympathize with the abuser or rationalize the abuser's behavior. The survivor needs to feel supported and your loyalty as a friend is very important.

Let your friend know that God's love for them is real.  However, understand that your friend's feelings about God and the church may be confused and conflicted. Let him know that you are able to listen to these doubts and accept and care for him as he struggles with many spiritual questions.  By being a nonjudgmental listener you are giving your friend a glimpse of God's own grace. If your friend feels safe being totally honest with you, it can help pave the way for them to express themselves honestly with God.

Don't try to handle the situation by yourself. Encourage the survivor to get support and reach out to others who could offer further help, such as an RD, or counselor. Don't try to be your friend's therapist. Your relationship as a friend is immensely valuable and provides unique and needed support. If your friend is a Messiah student, let them know that Counseling Services has experienced therapists who have helped many other Messiah students who are survivors of sexual abuse.  You may also find that you need support and advice as you try to be a caring and supportive friend, but are concerned about breaching confidence in getting advice on how best to do this. The Counseling Services staff are available to you as a resource and source of help, and are glad to talk with you as you keep your friend's identity anonymous.