How to help a survivor and their family
It is difficult to help a survivor or their family unless you know what to do and what to look for. Below are some things to keep in mind as a parent or friend of a survivor.
- Some survivors don’t talk about the assault initially (or ever). Encourage counseling, but know that it is very difficult for some survivors to seek counsel. Allow a survivor to be in control of their healing. If counseling is started, your child may need “breaks”. You can’t control your child’s feelings. Never force your child to talk about the assault.
- Depending on the circumstances, your child may need time before feeling comfortable in groups of people, especially those they do not know well. Don’t be surprised if he or she does not want to attend birthday parties, sleepovers, or other functions with large groups of people.
- “Secrets” make the survivor feel ashamed. It is extremely important to tell a survivor the assault is not their fault. They will not believe it the first 100 times. Keep saying it. Consistent reinforcement is necessary for healing.
- Look for signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Don’t be surprised if symptoms don’t occur immediately. Sometimes anxiety and depression can surface years after the assault.
- You may notice a change in clothing style or hair color. Be alerted to an increased risk of substance abuse/use, eating disorders and post-traumatic symptoms.
- Investigation of sexual assault can be very slow. If a rape kit is performed following the assault, it can take six weeks or more to be processed. The victim and his or her parents are entitled to little, if any information due to a potential prosecution.
- While reporting is the right thing to do for a survivor, the victim should be assured that it is not his or her responsibility to keep an assault from happening to someone else.
- Extend grace and patience to your spouse, realizing they are experiencing many of the same negative emotions as you are.
- Parents may feel like they failed to protect their child. This is the most difficult part of the journey for most parents. It is important to seek the care of a qualified counselor, if you are experiencing any of the following; persistent sadness, emptiness, sleeplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, inability to concentrate, thoughts of death, perpetual thoughts of danger.