I work with women; who years later find themselves processing for the first time (or the millionth time) sexual trauma from their past. Because healing is not linear. It is important for both survivors and community members to understand how to respond.
First A Few Things To Know About Trauma
Trauma is a mind body reaction. It can occur when events overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with the emotions, sensations, and other information connected with that expereice. (psychology today Dan Manger, MSW)
Trauma may involve a single brief event, an event that lasts for hours or days, a series of events, or a situation that is ongoing.
When we talk about sexual assualt, rape, and sex crimes we are talking about events that fall under the umbrella of traumatic experiences.
Traumatic life experiences stay with us differently than other life experiences. Time isn’t a way to measure recovery because the experience is emotionally layered. Years later it can be painful, old wonds break open by events such as birth, marriage, death…etc.
Research estimates 58%-94% of victims seek help from family and friends. That gives everyone a responsibility to help victims come forward, recover and heal. Regardless of when the experience actually took place. (Start Believing professional training)
An important thing to think about it the impact of positive/negative reactions.
When a survivor receives a negative reaction from a friend, family member of formal support. Research concludes that individual is more likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress, have delayed recovery and more likely to develop thoughts of self-blame.
“Victims may be better off receiving no support at all then receiving a reaction they consider to be hurtful.” (Start with believing campaign)
Positive reactions play an absolutely critical role in a person’s recovery.
Typically, no one is prepared for what to say or how to handle the weight of that information.
Genuine love, and empathy are sincere. Trust the relationship they came to you, should say something about the trust they share with you. Think about their safety; both emotional and physical. Validate their experience, its not your role to decide why it happened, what they did or didn’t do right…etc. Provide support as they move forward, offer open communication. Remember the way we share our experiences through the language we us creates cultural shifting, that can be empowering both to the survivor and those finding themselves in positions to be informal and formal support. Say Maya Angelou has said, “When we know better we can do better.”
National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Start With Believing
Rape and Sexual Assault/Utah