People begin to start to heal once they feel heard

SUPPORTING A SURVIVOR

Supporting a survivor of sexual violence can be daunting. You might be afraid of saying or doing ‘the wrong thing’. But you don’t have to be an expert.

The most important thing you can do is listen, and let the person who’s confiding in you tell you what they need.

LISTEN

Listen – and show you’re listening – to what they have to say, even if it’s difficult for you to hear. You might have lots of questions but try not to interrupt.

LET THEM STAY IN CONTROL

Sexual abuse, rape or any kind of sexual violence can make a person feel powerless and ‘out of control’. Survivors want and deserve to feel in charge of their own lives again.

It’s important to resist the temptation to ‘take over’, for example by arranging and doing things you think are best. Instead, support her/him to explore their feelings and options and make their own decisions.

RESPECT THEIR DECISIONS

Respect their choices, even if you don’t think they’re the ones you’d make in their situation.

Doing things for a survivor (like making an appointment on their behalf without checking that’s what they want first) can end up making things worse, even when you were only trying to help.

BE PATIENT

Many survivors find it difficult to trust others because of their experiences, especially if they’ve not been believed in the past.

At the same time, if someone you know has told you that they were abused or raped, they’ve put trust in you. Try to repay that trust by being patient and don’t push for them to tell you anything before they’re ready.

It might not be easy for them to start talking about their experiences they might have stayed silent about for a long time. It might be difficult because their abuser told them not to tell or threatened them. They might feel ashamed or responsible. They might be traumatised.

If it’s your partner who’s experienced sexual violence, whether recent or past, they might find intimacy and sexual contact difficult.

Sometimes they might not even want you physically close, and other times they might seek extra physical comfort from you. Try to remember that this is not a reflection on you or your relationship, It’s about your partner’s experiences and feelings.

Reassure them, respect their wishes and be patient.

BELIEVE THEM

People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. Why would they? It’s important to believe what they’re saying even if it’s difficult for you to hear.

They might have tried to tell before and been ignored or not believed.

They might have been threatened or too scared to say anything.

They might have felt ashamed or blocked out events too painful to think about.

REMEMBER IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT

No-one asks to be abused, assaulted or raped.

No survivor should ever be blamed for not preventing their own abuse. The blame lies with the perpetrator.

   

RECOGNISE THEIR COURAGE

It takes a lot of strength and courage to survive and to talk about experiences of sexual violence. Acknowledge that.

DON’T ASK WHY THEY DIDN’T SPEAK OUT SOONER

They might have tried to tell before and been ignored or not believed.

They might have been threatened or too scared to say anything.

They might have felt ashamed or blocked out events too painful to think about.

DO NOT JUDGE

It is important to be accepting of the way they are reacting, even if it’s not what you were expecting or not the way you think you’d respond to a similar experience.

It’s best to get rid of any ideas you have of how a person who has been raped ‘should’ behave and accept their reactions as their own and valid.

DO NOT ASK WHY THEY DID NOT FIGHT BACK

This will only make them feel judged or even blamed for what happened.

Rape and sexual violence can be terrifying experiences. People react in different ways.

It is very common to freeze, or for our bodies to ‘flop’ or go limp.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO TAKE CARE OF YOU

Remember to take care of yourself as well.

Supporting a survivor can be difficult and it’s OK to take time and space for yourself.

It’s important not to betray a survivor’s trust by telling others about their experiences without their permission.

If you need to, you can talk confidentially and get specialist support from JAAR

Zoe Lodrick (Sexualised Trauma Specialist) article on how trauma affects the brain and why survivors often do not fight back, or their brain takes them into the freeze/flop state.

IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!

It is widely believed by survivors of rape and sexual abuse and the public in general that if they were under threat or being attacked they would fight back, this is why when a person goes into freeze or flop mode it is not widely understood.

We have all heard of the fight or flight mode which our bodies go into when faced with danger, what is not understood is that this is a subconscious way the brain ensures survival when faced with danger or an imminent attack. What we don’t realise is that when the fight or flight mode does not work ie: the attacker is not backing off, the body then goes into freeze mode, (this is a survival instinct from the days of being hunted by wild animals, if we can’t (fight) them or run from them (flight) then we play dead and (freeze) if the attacker keeps coming our body goes into a compliant (flop) mode this ensures that the least possible damage is done to our physical body, as a tense body will suffer more injury during an attack. The brain does not take into account the damage done to our psychological state.

The brain after the attack sees this flop mode successful if we have survived, no matter how damaged psychologically we may be, the brain will be more inclined to utilise the ‘flop’ mode automatically in the future bypassing the fight, flight and freeze. This is why a trigger or memory of the attack may automatically send a survivor into flop/compliant mode, and survivors of a series of attacks may years later go into flop mode when faced with any attack or trigger.

The repercussions of a rape or sexual assault on the brain of the survivor can be devastating, but with the correct counselling and support many can and have gone on to live happy and successful lives.

More often than not the trauma of the attack is stored in the subconscious part of the brain which kicks in to ensure survival, effectively switching off the conscious brain. This is why many survivors may not remember any of the attack or only flashbacks.

What counselling does is to help bring the trauma to the conscious part of the brain so it can be dealt with and effectively ‘let go’, as trapped in the unconscious you are holding the trauma in your body and brain and this is why flashbacks and triggers are so traumatic, instead it being seen as a bad memory it is like reliving the trauma again and again.