Every victim of abuse processes and
handles it differently. Some victims carry the trauma with them their entire lives while others are able to heal quickly and move on with their lives normally. Some victims even commit suicide because of fear and shame. Abuse, rape or assault are very sensitive subjects and many times following abuse, family members and friends often don’t know the right things to say and end up saying things that could be hurtful and painful for the victim, even with good intentions. Here are 10 things you should totally avoid saying to a victim:
1. Are you sure it happened?
Are you for real?
When a sexual abuse victim decides to tell you their story, it took a lot of guts because telling is the hardest thing to do for a victim. Yes, there are people who make these things up sometimes, this doesn’t mean you should doubt anyone.
2. This happened years ago, why can’t you just get over it and move on?
Sexual abuse involves pain, grief, shame, loss of innocence and a bereavement of FREEDOM. It’s not something you can just ‘get over’. The time will pass. They’ll grow. They’ll heal, or not. They might forgive. They could even lead almost normal lives . But they’ll NEVER forget. There will always be that grief and trauma. It never really goes away.
3. You’ll never heal or reach closure if you keep talking and thinking about it so much.
Let them talk. What if that’s the way they choose to heal? Sometimes talking and having someone to listen is just soothing. Isn’t that what we do at the shrinks’ anyway? There will be times when a victim spends a lot of time talking. This is part of PROCESSING. There will also be times when you will never hear a word of it from them. So while they are free to speak, give a listening ear, offer your understanding. Ask questions, good questions.
Also know that so many victims suffer form Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and this can cause flashbacks and triggers to happen when they are least expected.
Saying someone’s journey to healing is too slow and they need do it more quickly is NOT motivation. It will only make them feel weaker.
4. It’s just sex. They probably didn’t mean to hurt you.
There’s a huge difference between consensual and non-consensual sex.
Consensual sex is any form of sex, touching or intimacy between two people who are in agreement and are both willing to engage in sexual acts while of sound minds. Any sexual act that involves a party being uncomfortable, hesitant, resistant, drunk, high on drugs or saying a plain NO is not consensual. It’s predatory and criminal. It’s never just sex.
5. But was it full-on sexual assault?
What does this even mean???
No matter how ‘mild’ or ‘intense’, ABUSE IS ABUSE.
Healing from any form of sexual abuse is difficult, don’t ever belittle anyone’s story, just because it didn’t sound violent enough to you or you can’t see any physical scars.
6.What were you wearing? Did you flirt?
It doesn’t matter what a victim was wearing! Anybody can dress the way they feel beautiful and comfortable. Sexual predators prey on people, regardless of what they are wearing.
Perpetrators are responsible for their own actions. The worst thing you can ever do is blame a victim because of the way they were dressed. What about the victims that were dressed ‘properly’? And flirting is not asking to be abused either.
7. Why didn’t you talk long before now?
You have to understand that most victims see telling as a big risk for them. They are scared to talk because of the way our society thinks, they are scared of the stigma, the shame, they are scared nobody will believe them or that YOU will blame them for it, they are scared they might lose loved ones if they talk. So if they finally gather the strength and courage to talk no matter how many years it takes, don’t ask them why it took so long.
8. I totally understand.
No, you don’t. And you probably never will. Unless you’ve been a victim, never say this. And even if you have, people are all different and unique and will process their abuse or heal in different and unique ways. So because you healed quickly, doesn’t mean the next person would.
9. Well, why didn’t you cry out for help, fight back, struggle free and escape or do this or that? Why did you just lie there?
Know this: You will never know how it was for the victim. You’ll never know what they could or could not have done. We all process shock in different ways, so if a victim tells you they just lay there, you should never shame them for not doing what you feel you would have done if your were in their shoes.
10. You’re even lucky, some people have had it worse.
Like I said before, everyone has a unique story, and no matter the level of sexual abuse, it is very real and difficult to process for each individual. So don’t minimize one person’s story by sharing another story you feel is more ‘intense’.