Caring for those who were sexually abused

PEOPLE have various methods when dealing with a person who has been sexually abused or raped, and some approaches are insensitive. Some think the victim is somewhat to blame, e.g. ‘what was he/she doing in his room anyway at that time of night?’ or ‘He/she got what he/she was looking for, if you play with fire, you’re going to get burn’. These connotations do nothing to help or heal the pain and trauma felt by the victim. They were violated by someone who exerted power over them by subduing and sexually assaulting them.

When a person struggles to get away, that person has not consented to sex. If the person screams, ‘No’ just once, or multiple times, and yet the perpetrator pursues, then a crime has been committed, which is punishable by law. Why the victim was there, and what actions preceded the sexual abuse or rape, cannot outweigh the fact that ‘NO is NO’ and forcing someone to have sexual intercourse against one’s will is an evil act.

Another method which is equally as tactless is the ‘cover-up’. This method is used mainly in families where children are victims of sexual abuse, and parents turn a blind eye. They refuse to acknowledge the assault for what it truly is; sometimes because the perpetrator is a family member and sometimes because, they too were sexually abused as a child, so they pass it off as if it is nothing. They send a heartless message to the child through their nonchalance – you’re not the first, you won’t be the last, get over it! They may or may not put measures in place to prevent the child from continuing to cross paths with the abuser.

Children need to feel worthy; they need to feel loved and cared for by people who have their backs. Boys and girls need love and attention from the adults in their lives. Most people assume that boys need less attention, but this is not true, children need adults to protect and nurture them regardless of gender. If by chance a child or adolescent confides in you that someone had (or attempted to) sexually abuse or rape him/her, how would you react? And how would you deal with it?

Of course, you would be alarmed and initially might want to believe, you heard wrong, but no, those are the facts; a loved one has experienced this horrendous trauma and has turned to you for support. The first thing you need to do is to stay calm; stop whatever you may be doing and give the person your undivided attention. Do not become overly dramatic or accuse the person of lying because you are in denial. Neither should you behave in a judgmental manner and start accusing or blaming the victim. These are cultural traits that hinder rather than help victims, in coming to grips with the situation.

Allow the person to speak freely, without interrupting and asking for details, but make a mental note of anything that might need clarification later. Listen carefully and show concern for how he/she is feeling. When appropriate, commend them for disclosing the ordeal. For many victims, especially children, support is an essential part of the healing process and receiving sympathetic, thoughtful responses from loved ones can make a difference.

Violation of a loved one is bound to affect you and a cascade of emotions, including, helplessness, anger and revenge may enter your thoughts, but you must remain calm enough to think sensibly about what to do next. Give yourself some space to decide the best way to respond. If it is a child, you must make a report to the Police or the Childcare and Protection Agency. For an older person, whatever you do next, the victim must agree before you proceed.

Bullying, badgering or cajoling a victim into telling other people about the sexual assault, when he/she is not ready, could add to the trauma, and he/she may become isolated or depressed as a result. However, most people will eventually listen to reason when given sensible suggestions.
Positive affirmations will help the victim to overcome feelings of shame, worthlessness, and self-hate, so let him/her know that you believe in him/her and you don’t blame him/her; you are supportive, come what may.

It is never easy to heal from sexual violence; it takes time, and sometimes even counselling, for victims to become survivors. The victim will have flashbacks, and any aspect of everyday life could trigger remembrance of the incident for years to come. But with patience and the reassurance that things will get better, the victim can make small steps forward.

Parents and adults must report child sexual abuse to the Police or the Childcare and Protection Agency without delay. They must not take the law into their hands and obstruct prosecution, by seeking compensation from the perpetrator for their silence; or by beating the culprit to within an inch of his life. Both these actions are accessories to the crime.

There are people in the ’70s and ’80s who still remember being sexually assaulted or raped as a child, as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Many of them never reported the incident or told anyone about their ordeal. Today we are wiser and know what we can do to seek justice and possibly to protect others from a similar fate.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at

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