How Do I Help a Victim of Childhood Sexual Abuse?
Believe & Listen
If a victim of child sexual abuse chooses you to confide in, the most important thing you can do is listen and tell them that you believe them. Feel honoured that they chose you to trust and recognize how difficult it would be for them to come forward and speak about what has happened. In most situations, this is a secret burden that the victim has carried for a long time.
When a victim confides in you, they aren't expecting you to have all the answers. They are looking for somebody to talk to, somebody who will listen to them, believe them, support them and not judge them.
If you don't know what to say, don't say much at all and let them talk.
It's important that you don't put any pressure on the victim to do anything outside of their comfort zone. Their emotions can be very fragile, especially if you are the first person they have told, or if the abuse is still going on. The exception, of course, is if there is a significant safety concern (then see the last section of this page).
Ask them what they need from you and try to comply.
Depending on your relationship with the victim and the circumstances, you may be able to provide some gently worded suggestions but don't react strongly if the victim does not follow through.
Research child sexual abuse and learn more about what the victim is going through, as well as how the abuser controls and manipulates the situation. Education and understanding is the key to helping victims feel strong enough to start their journey towards stopping the abuse and becoming a survivor. You can help them through this if you undertand what they are feeling and how the abuser controls them.
I have identified some Resources and Statistics on my site that may be a good place to start.
There are some self-help books available for people who wish to help victims through their healing process. Laura Davis' Allies in Healing is an excellent example.
When Safety Is A Concern
Every victim's situation is different. If there is a concern over safety due to potential violence from the abuser, the most important thing is to ensure the victim's safety, and your's now that you're also involved. Depending on the possible threat, there are some different alternatives to consider:
- talk to the victim about telling an adult who can help ensure safety for both of you. Discuss who the trusted adult should be.
- remove the victim from the home of the abuser, if they are in the same residence, by offering them a safe place to stay
- find help from resources within your community or region who have experience with these situations (police, centre for domestic violence or abuse, public health unit, a shelter for victims of abuse or violence, etc)
If you are the first person the victim has spoken to about their situation, they may be resistant to the above alternatives. Usually I would advise you to not be pushy, but when there is a possibility of violence, I encourage you to become more persuasive with the victim.
Last Updated July 26, 2013