If someone you know has been hurt by sexual abuse, here's how you can help:
· Believe them. "Encourage them," said Meredith Jones of Durham Crisis Response Center. "The best thing you can do is say it's not your fault and believe that yourself."
· Help them feel normal.
Some survivors think sexual abuse has happened only to them and no one else, Jones said. Remind them that it happens to many people. They're not alone. Tell them it's OK for them to feel bad or sad or angry. Whatever they feel is OK.
· Respect boundaries.
Everyone has his or her own comfort zone of personal space. For some survivors of abuse, maintaining this buffer is crucial. "There are some survivors who when I see them I always make sure to put my arms around them and give them a hug," said Charles Fisher of Raleigh Men's Center. "There are others that not only do I not do that, but I make sure I am standing far away from my hand when I shake it. Know the boundaries around which the survivor feels safe."
· Speak carefully.
Strike "I know how you feel," from your vocabulary, Fisher said. You can listen and sympathize, but you will never know how a survivor felt.
· Listen without judging.
Survivors can maintain silence for years. If they open up to you, help them feel safe by listening without drawing conclusions. "When someone discloses sexual abuse, if they don't get a good response from someone they trust, it can hold their healing process up for many years," Jones said.
· Be an advocate.
Encourage survivors to consider reporting the rape or calling a hot line for help. But don't pressure them. Revealing their abuse is their decision.
· Be patient.
Remember it takes time to heal. Let survivors know you're there whenever they need you.
This is taken from the Tuesday, August 13, 2002 edition of the Raleigh NewsObserver, a related sidebar article to "Journey to peace: A Cary man learns that the only way to overcome sexual abuse is to face it" By KELLY STARLING, Staff Writer.
These are not only good words to those who have family or friends who are SA survivors, but also for us survivors in relating to one another.
"I can't stand pain. It hurts me."