When we talk about sexual abuse recovery, the survivor is the most important person to think about. The survivor must come to terms with the past and be at peace in the present. Ultimately, no one can heal for the survivor. But when we think about sexual abuse like this, we risk assuming it only impacts survivors. We might think that we don’t play a role in abuse recovery or in stopping abuse from happening.
The reality is that sexual abuse impacts all of us, and we can all do things not only to help survivors heal but to shape the way that society thinks about this issue. Here are three things anyone can do:
1. Don’t blame survivors.
Adult survivors of sexual abuse have often blamed themselves ever since the abuse occurred when they were children. Assure survivors that what happened is not their fault. Asking questions like “Why did you let the abuse go on for so long?” or “Why didn’t you tell someone about this sooner?” can continue to make survivors feel like they are to blame. Your role is to support a survivor on her healing journey, not question her about the past and her behavior.
2. Have conversations with survivors.
In our culture, there is a strong stigma associated with sexual abuse. This stigma can make it scary to talk about abuse, but refusing to have open conversations can reinforce the stigma and shame that survivors feel. Don’t force a survivor to talk about her past abuse, but make it safe for the topic to come up. When it does, be supportive and hopeful.
3. Think bigger.
Discussing sexual abuse with an individual survivor is important, but we need to have this conversation more broadly in our society as well. We need survivors to know that they’re not alone and that we’re aware of what’s happening. Talking about abuse can be intimidating and awkward, but it’s a necessary step in addressing the problem. You can be part of raising awareness about sexual abuse and helping survivors heal.
Survivors need to feel support, and they feel support through more than just having people listen to them. They need to feel like people care about sexual abuse. We all have the power to shape attitudes about abuse if we’ll add our voices to the conversation.