How to support an adult survivor

Often, survivors of sexual abuse grow up feeling very isolated and vulnerable, a feeling that may continue into their adult lives. Sexual abuse may have influenced all parts of a survivor's life, including communication style, self-confidence, and trust levels. Adult survivors may appear to be strong and have dealt with the past abuse, however, they may be falling apart inside. Sometimes others get impatient with survivors for not “getting past it” sooner. Remember, adult survivors sometimes are feeling overwhelmed, and need your patience and support. Healing takes time. There may be changes in your relationship with a survivor as they heal.

Believe the Survivor even when…

…they doubt themselves
…their memories are vague
…what they tell you sounds extreme

Let them know that you are willing to listen to them with respect.

Validate the survivor's feelings: they need to feel them, express them and be heard, and they do not expect you to “fix” anything.

Take a clear stance that the abuse/assault is not the survivor’s fault: regardless of the circumstances, no one asks to be abused or assaulted. They did what they had to do to survive. It is always the fault of the offender/perpetrator.

Encourage the survivor to get help and support: in addition to offering your own caring, encourage them to reach out to others.

Educate yourself: having a basic idea of what the survivor is going through will help you to be supportive. Get support for your feelings about the abuse so you can be there for the survivor.

Resist seeing the survivor as a victim: continue to see them as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming their own life.

10 points from one survivor to supporters:

  1. Please treat me with dignity

  2. Listen to me with both of your ears

  3. Be prepared to walk as far as you can with me

  4. Listen through the gaze of your eyes

  5. Don’t be afraid to show me your own emotion(s)

  6. Listen with your skin

  7. Be prepared to believe each story, and speak out that you believe

  8. Listen with your entire emotional world

  9. Go online and get educated about abuse

  10. Keep listening with every fibre of your being
Credit: Archdiocese of Perth website LINK