Friends and family members are crucial to the emotional recovery of sexual abuse survivors. They provide much-needed sympathy, comfort and support after a traumatic, life-changing event. But sometimes even loved ones with the best of intentions make insensitive comments that are hurtful to survivors without knowing it.
The purpose of this blog, provided by the compassionate sexual abuse lawyers at Wilshire Law Firm, is not to shame those who slip up – all of us are only human, after all – but to educate friends and family members of survivors on how they can best avoid saying damaging words and be as loving and helpful as possible.
“That was a long time ago. Get over it.”
Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can endure. Survivors have to contend with the grief of losing innocence, the shame of being violated, and the burden of living with the memory. Of course, with the right support systems, survivors can heal and learn how to process their grief in healthy ways, but they can never return to a pre-abuse state of “normalcy.” In other words, there’s no completely getting over the trauma of sexual abuse; wounds of this nature leave permanent scars.
“Did it really happen?”
While there are pathological liars out there who would make up such a dreadful story about themselves just to get attention, they are a very, very small minority. One might ask, “But what about false memories?” Survivors are pretty sure that it happened because they have to deal with the very real effects of trauma on a daily basis.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
The survivor and ONLY the survivor has the right to decide whether to tell another person about their experience with sexual abuse. Telling requires mental and emotional readiness, and most importantly, trust. You are not entitled to cross a survivor’s barriers unless it is their choice.
“That’s just how men are.”
Men aren’t thoughtless animals enslaved to their libidos; they are human beings with intelligence, will, and responsibility. They can lead active sexual lives while also treating women with respect. Saying this is insulting to not only the survivor but also all men.
“You shouldn’t have been drunk.”
Nobody has the right to touch a person, even an inebriated one, without their consent, much less sexually assault them. Drunkenness on the part of either the victim or the perpetrator shouldn’t be treated as some kind of free pass, get-out-of-jail card for criminal behavior.
“Maybe this happened for a reason.”
An injustice is an injustice, a thing that shouldn’t have happened for any reason whatsoever. When you say this, you’re basically abstracting the survivor’s very real pain, which is the same as disrespecting it.