Supporting survivors of sexual violence
The Centre supports friends, families and professional supporters of survivors of sexual violence. If you are supporting a survivor all our services are available to you.
It can be challenging when somebody you know discloses experiences of sexual violence to you and asks for your help. Remember this person confided in you because they feel that they can trust you. Perhaps you are the first person they have ever told. The fact that they have chosen to tell you says you are already doing something right.
The Centre can provide you with information on options available to the survivor. We can also offer you a space to share your own feelings about the situation as a supporter. You might feel affected by what you hear, particularly if you have a close relationship with a survivor.
We also offer training and support for professionals, who have to deal with disclosure as part of their work, for example Gards, social workers, teachers, community workers or counsellors.
When something terrible has happened to someone you are close to, it can be difficult to know what is the best help to offer. Nothing can be done now about the fact that a person has been hurt, but you can be there for them in their recovery.
Here are some things to remember which might help:
- Let the survivor stay in control: Sexual abuse and rape can make a victim feel powerless and out of control. Survivors need to feel they can be in charge of their lives again. Therefore, it is important that you resist the very natural temptation to take over by arranging and doing things that you think are best. Instead let her/him talk and help and support them in their decisions.
- Don’t break the trust they have put in you: If someone you know has told you that they were abused it is because they trust you and they sense that you care for them. Telling you is their demonstration of a level of trust in you, your willingness and developing ability to support them will be your contribution. However if the survivor is a minor, ie under 18 years, you will have an obligation to report to authorities under Children First Guidelines.
SAFE, non-abusive relationships are survivors most precious resources and you are very IMPORTANT
- Listen and believe: It is important to take them seriously, to believe what they tell you and to be prepared to hear shocking and upsetting details. Don’t cast doubt on what you are told, the person needs to be listened to by someone who can accept the truth of what they are saying.
- Don’t judge: It is important to be accepting of the way they are reacting, even if this is not what you were expecting. It is best to get rid of any ideas you may have of how a person who has been raped/abused should behave, and to accept their reactions as normal.
- Challenge their self blame: Survivors often feel guilty about being raped or abused and feel that they could, and should, have done something to stop it happening. Newspapers, jokes, current thinking and myths about rape commonly blame the person for ‘inviting’ rape. It is important not to join in the blaming of the person for what actions they did or did not take. Don’t ask too many questions. Challenge any feelings they may have about having been careless, too trusting, or provocative and help them put the blame, where it belongs, on the rapist/ abuser.
- Help with the practical steps and information: There are practical consequences of rape/abuse. Pregnancy is a possibility for women, and so are sexually transmitted diseases, and physical injury. They may need your support and encouragement to arrange to have these tests done.
- Let them decide what legal steps they wish to take: The decision on whether to report the assault to the Gardai and face a possible court case also has to be considered.
Some people find it helps them to regain some control over their lives by tackling these problems themselves. Others are not able to think about them at all. So again, respect the person’s feelings.
- Be there for the long term: When a person is raped or sexually abused the effects are likely to last a long time. Don’t advise someone to forget it – they can’t. Be prepared for them to need support or someone to talk to in the future. Do let them know that you are available for them to talk to, when they want to. Accept that this person they turn to, for a variety of reasons, may not always be you.
- Look after yourself: It is very important for you to make sure that you are looking after yourself. Recovering from rape/abuse can take a long time and your friend/ partner/ sister/ daughter/son may not get over this quickly so you will need to pace yourself because it may take them quite a long time to recover. Be clear and honest about what support you can offer them and what you feel you are able to hear.
- Often people are nervous and afraid to say ‘the wrong thing’ because they don’t know enough about sexual violence. You do not need to be an expert to listen and help.
- You may feel helpless, confused, shocked; you might find it hard to believe what the survivor told you is true. If this is the case, you may need to talk to somebody about what you are feeling.
- Do not expect the survivor to be able to listen to you contact our Centre or a friend for support for yourself.
- Be sensitive to their sexual and intimacy difficulties: If your partner has been raped or sexually abused they may not want to sleep with you or even have you physically close. Respect their wishes and tell them you will assume sex is off the agenda until they say otherwise. Childhood abuse can blur the line between sex and affection and this can affect friendships as much as sexual relationships. Again, if you do not understand your partners needs and reactions as regards their body and you are confused or angry it might be good to talk to someone.