Don't Criticizetoggle accordion content
Don’t criticize a survivor of abuse for being where they were at the time, for not resisting more or screaming, for not talking about it earlier or for anything else. Anybody, anywhere, can be a victim of abuse, regardless of age, gender, looks, dress and so on. Regardless of circumstances “no” means “no,” and nobody deserves to be raped. Myths about women “asking for it” or men being “unable to help themselves” create a burden of guilt on the survivor in the first place, and they may already feel partly responsible. Any criticism of their handling of the situation, either during the attack or afterwards, simply adds to that guilt, and it is important that the blame is placed firmly where it belongs – with the person who committed the assault.
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Try not to over-simplify what has happened by saying it isn’t very bad, “never mind”, “forget it”. Let them say exactly how they feel and allow them to work through it in their own time.
Don't Take Controltoggle accordion content
Sexual abuse makes people feel invaded, changed and out of control; try to imagine how this feels, and try to do what helps them rather than what makes you feel better – listen to what they want. It is crucial that they be able to make their own decisions and regain influence over what happens in their lives in order to rebuild trust and strength.
It is common for loved ones, themselves distressed, to step in and be too protective, or to treat survivors differently and make their decisions for them, all of which can add to their frustration. Ask them how they want to be helped, and in trying to do this you’ll help rebuild their trust.
Don't Frighten Themtoggle accordion content
Don’t come up behind them or touch them unexpectedly or in a way that reminds them of the assault. They may want to be held and comforted, or prefer not to be until they feel safe – ask what feels best.
Don’t feel offended if they find it difficult to be close, emotionally or, if you are their partner, sexually, after the assault. It is not that they feel you might assault them but that it may recall their feelings of violation and fear.
Encourage them to say what is comfortable and safe and how they want to spend their time with you. If you find that there is an emotional distance between you following the assault, try not to blame them or put pressure on them to forget it quickly. Seek support for yourself from someone who may understand – feeling guilt or pressure will only make it harder for them to work through the experience. Feeling that you are listening and responding on the other hand will help them to re-establish feelings of closeness and trust.
Don't Direct Anger at Themtoggle accordion content
Don’t direct the anger and frustration you are likely to feel about the assault at the survivor. They will already be worried that what has happened to them will hurt those close to them.
Reassure them that you know it isn’t their fault, and if you do feel anger, make it very clear that it is directed towards those who committed the assault and not them. Remember that threatening to take the law into your own hands is not helpful; it can make them feel even more unsafe, make them distressed to see you so upset, or could worry them that you’ll get into trouble or get hurt. It can also make them feel out of control of the situation and that their needs are again being ignored.
You may need to ask friends or other trusted people for support and ideas about how to deal with your own understandable feelings of anger and frustration.
Don't Blame Yourselftoggle accordion content
Don’t blame yourself for what happened because you weren’t with them, hadn’t protected them, etc. The responsibility lies solely with those who committed the assault.
Don't Speak for Themtoggle accordion content
Don’t speak for them unless they specifically want you to. When friends, the police, the doctor, etc., ask how they feel, always let them speak for themselves. If they want to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally close to them, make it clear that they can choose whether or not you are with them.
Don't Expect Too Much of Yourselftoggle accordion content
They may need different types of support from different people. No one person can do everything for them. It can help you too to know that they can go to other people for support if they choose to. Sometimes, a counsellor or trusted friends and colleagues can help in ways those closest to them can’t.
You won’t be able to magically make everything better straight away, but by showing them that you believe them, that you don’t blame them, and that you want to help them regain control of their life, by listening, respecting their feelings and views and showing you care, you can make a great difference and help them begin to heal again.