April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This means a lot of tough topics will be circulating in the media. As important as it is to raise awareness and call out what needs to be called out, this awareness can be hard, and triggering. If the topic does arise between you and a survivor, you may want to handle it as gently as possible, but not know how.
Here are some ways to navigate through the discussion with grace and sensitivity.
Trauma makes us feel afraid, even in spaces where we should feel safe. Reassuring someone that they’re safe can help soothe the anxiety, even just a little.
Sometimes it’s the struggling to find the words part that raises anxiety for those trying to be of comfort. You might feel like you want to break the silence. However, silence is sometimes just what someone might need. Often, just being there in physical form is the most comforting sense of support, especially when words just aren’t enough. It’s okay, these things take time.
Patience is so important. Let the conversation flow at whichever pace it may. Bombarding someone with questions can feel like an interrogation. If you do have questions, ask them first if they’re comfortable with being asked something.
Survivors often feel guilty for what certainly wasn’t their fault. Make sure that you’re allowing them to go through whatever motions they may need to, without judgement, only care. Everyone has different emotional reactions, and it’s important to let them know that they are allowed to feel whatever it is they feel.
When they have spoken as much as they need to, ask them what they need from you in this moment. Some people may want space, others closeness. All you need to do is ask in order to help as best you can.
Something to keep in mind: you were told certain things in confidence, as someone else’s safe space. This one is tricky, because of course we want to help. Just remember that it probably took a lot to tell the story, and they may be terrified of being hurt or threatened. You can encourage people to break their silence, but you can’t do it for them. Remember that this isn’t your experience and your role in this situation is to be supportive and listen.
You don’t need to give anyone a motivational speech. Maybe you don’t even know what to say. Simply think about your words, try to be soft.
“It’s okay. It’s never your fault. And you are so loved.”
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