Child sexual abuse. What do you do and say when a loved one tells you that they experienced sexual abuse as a child?. The first thing is that you listen without judgement. After that, your first phrase should be, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” Some people will get really emotional as they talk about what happened. Others may talk with a lot less emotion. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t really hurting inside. There’s a part of our minds that has no concept of time. Especially if they keep going over and over what happened in their minds, the whole thing might feel as emotionally raw and painful as though it had just happened a day or two ago. Be sure to listen with love and understanding.
It’s also a good idea to express that you believe them since chances are they’ve been holding back from talking for a variety of different reasons, one of which could have been the fear of people not believing them. Another common reason for not speaking up is because they feel embarrassed and ashamed about what happened. They might even consciously or subconsciously be blaming themselves for what was done to them. That’s why it’s important to express that, “It’s not your fault.” Make sure to make eye contact when you say that one.
One of the things that I’ve found useful in talking with sexual abuse survivors is to at some point share my own story on the topic so that the person understands that they are not alone. This person has been bottling up what happened and all the emotions that came with it for a long time. It’s important that you understand the magnitude of what is happening. Consider saying, “I really appreciate your courage.” The more we help that person feel loved and supported, the better. It’s a very good idea to express, “I’m here for you. I’m always available if you want to talk,” and really mean it.
If the person mentions that they aren’t seeing a psychologist, it’s important that they see one because there’s a lot there that needs to be processed and it’s a process. You may want to suggest it. Lastly, even after your initial talk, check in on the person from time to time and ask, “How have you been doing?”.
I know topics like these can be very sensitive. I hope these tips help you to do your best given the situation.