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How Families and Friends Can Help Survivors of Sexual Violence to Heal

How Families and Friends Can Help Survivors of Sexual Violence to Heal April 18, 20217 Comments

Family members and friends of survivors of sexual violence can help them to cope, heal and recover from the physical and psychological effects of sexual violence by giving them the necessary support. Below are a few ways to support survivors of sexual violence.

  • Empathize – Imagine the sufferings the person could be experiencing and let them know you are aware that s/he is going through some pains, and that you feel sorry that s/he is going through such.
  • Appropriate blame correctly – A survivor is never to be held responsible for their abuse no matter their mistake. Many survivors usually blame themselves for their abuse and consequently experience guilt. Hence, when we blame them for their abuse, we only compound their sufferings. The blame for abuse should be appropriated to the perpetrator.
  • Show understanding – Survivors of sexual violence may exhibit certain behaviours that others may find annoying, such as angry outbursts, withdrawal and refusing help. It is necessary to be aware that these behaviours are not intentional and that the individual needs help even when they appear not to be interested in being helped.
  • Enhance Safety – It is difficult for survivors of Sexual violence to heal if they remain in an environment where they constantly feel endangered. It is therefore necessary to ensure that a survivor lives in an environment where s/he can experience a sense of safety.
  • Facilitate Professional Intervention – As mentioned earlier, survivors may sometimes resign themselves to fate, and act as though they do not need help or intervention. Friends and family members can take the initiative to arrange for professional interventions, such as medical assessment and treatment as well as counselling. They can encourage the survivor to take advantage of such interventions, remind them about their appointments and accompany them to sessions.
  • Facilitate Positive Emotions – Survivors usually experience sad mood as a result of sexual violence. Sometimes, the depressed mood could be so severe that some survivors may contemplate suicide. One of the ways to help is to encourage the survivor to participate in healthy interesting and exciting activities so that s/he can experience positive emotions. Let them realise that life can still be fun in spite of the abuse.
  • Be present – Being available helps survivors to know that they are not abandoned in their moments of pain. It let’s them realise that they are important and are treasured. Asking a survivor, “How do you feel this morning?” may mean so much. Sometimes, all that a person in distress needs may just be someone to tell how they feel even if the person may not be able to help them. Being available is a huge form of support.
  • Encourage routine – Routine can help people who are experiencing sad mood or preoccupied with distressing event that they have experienced to shift focus to other activities, thereby providing some periods of relief from the distress they suffer. A helpful routine may include self grooming, exercise, siesta and creative activities, such as painting, decorations or drawing. The strategy is to get the person mentally and physically occupied in a productive and self enhancing manner.
  • Encourage Social Interaction – It is normal for survivors of sexual violence to want to withdraw from others. However, the more they remain isolated from others, the more they are likely to feel alone and abandoned in their sufferings. It is therefore necessary to encourage survivors to interact with their friends and loved ones provided they feel safe around such people.
  • Allow emotional expression – Sometimes, survivors feel compelled to bottle up their negative emotions because of the way they are criticised by friends and family members. They are often given the impression that they are weak by expressing their anger or grief. This could make them to suppress such negative emotions instead of expressing them and learning to regulate them while they heal gradually.
  • Reassure – Survivors of sexual violence may lose hope of healing from trauma. They may think that their lives have been completely damaged by the abuse they experienced. Friends and family members can reassure them. Let them know that the trauma or sufferings they are experiencing is a passing phase, that they will heal and recover and be happy again. Let them know that they are still loved and treasured and that they can still live their normal lives when this phase is over, and achieve their dreams.
  • Avoid situations that could make the person to feel stigmatized, such as labelling the person based on the abuse or the symptoms they are experiencing or making negative references to the abuse.


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