If your loved one, partner, or friend, has been assaulted, or raped, or started recovery from childhood sexual abuse, than they will very likely go through a wide range of emotions, feelings, and responses. It will be a time when they need as much support from people around them as possible, including therapists, friends, and in the case of rape, medical staff and possibly the police.
Whilst it is beyond the scope of this article to turn you, the reader, into a highly trained trauma therapist, the fact that you are reading this does show that you are caring enough to try to improve you knowledge of the subject in order to help someone. That in its self must be acknowledged as a very positive sign.
Sometimes people who are not trained, or familiar with the intestacy of the trauma of rape and abuse, just simply do not know how best to help the victim, and will often end up feeling that they are in some way letting down the person whom they care about. "If only I could help better they would recover quicker". If the person who has been abused picks up on these feelings, it can add to their guilt, shame and confusion, making the trauma even harder for them to cope with.
Whilst everyone responds to trauma in differing ways, there are many common feelings, and reactions, that they will go through. These feelings may also "roller coaster" from day to day, even minute to minute. It is important that they are allowed to express these feelings in in open way, and with complete trust in those whom they talk to about these feelings. Rape and sexual abuse are about taking away the victims right to say NO. They are acts that the victim had no control over. They remove self worth, trust and replace them with guilt and shame. It is vital that the victim regains control and trust. The victim MUST be allowed to proceed at their own pace, and NOT have feelings invalidated with callus remarks such as "isn't it time you were over it now".
There are NO fixed rules to follow in helping someone to recover as such, because everyone is different, but there are some simple DOES and DON'Ts that do help.
Treat them as guidelines rather than fixed rules.
Do try to learn about the effects of abuse and the recovery process.
It will help if you read up on the effects of childhood sexual abuse, or rape, thus learning what some of the many effects can be. In doing so, you will have not only a better understanding of what to expect, but will also be able to reassure the person that you care about that what they are feeling is normal, and understandable.
Do learn about the effects of abuse and the recovery process.
Do help the survivor to make choices.
Do validate feelings.
Do encourage therapy for the survivor.
Do find therapy, or support for yourself.
Do respect boundaries and limits.
Do learn and practice time out skills to avoid arguments.
Do communicate about sexuality.
Do learn to play.
Do find time to be together, and also time to be apart.
Do blame the offender(s), NEVER the survivor.
Do plan for crises (including possible suicidal thoughts).
Do acknowledge progress in the healing process.
Do not be a martyr.
Do not overwhelm the survivor with your own anger.
Do not take outbursts personally.
Do not force forgiveness on the survivor.
Do not pronounce a "cure" or try to hurry the recovery process.
Do not force cheerfulness on the survivor.
Do not isolate your self.
* Available at: http://partners.aest.org.uk/does_and_donts.html (Abused Empowered Survive Thrive) 17.07.06
The Does and Don'ts For Partners of Survivors of Rape and Childhood Sexual Abuse*