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Hello! I'm Ashley.

I’m a Christian feminist, writer, speaker, TV producer, news pundit, ordained reverend, and abuse-victim advocate who educates churches and secular communities on abuse. I’m the founder of The Courage Conference, for survivors of abuse—and those who love them.

9 Ways To Be A Safe Friend To A Sexual Abuse Survivor

9 Ways To Be A Safe Friend To A Sexual Abuse Survivor

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The other day Steve from The Christian Feminist Daddy posed this question on Twitter:

I thought it was a great question, and with his permission, I decided to write a post answering it from my perspective.

When a friend or loved one confides in you about an experience of sexual abuse, this is an act of bravery and deep trust. Your response can greatly impact their healing journey.

9 Ways To Be A Safe Friend To A Sexual Abuse Survivor

1. Believe Them

Statistically speaking, false sexual abuse allegations are extremely rare. Dismissing your friend’s story could be devastating and even cause feelings of revictimization. It’s important to take your friend seriously and let them know you believe them.

2. Listen Empathetically

I know you want to get all of the details as quickly as possible, but this is a sensitive conversation. Gentle questions are good but empathetic listening is paramount. Practice holy listening, paying close attention to what they choose to share with you and letting them share at their own pace.

3. Resist Platitudes and Over-Spiritualization

A kind, compassionate word goes a long way, but steer clear of over-simplified and super spiritual answers like, “Well, I’m sure God had a reason for this” or “Just give it to Jesus and He will heal you.” It is so much more complicated than that, and pat answers can actually do more harm than good. Instead, try saying something like, “God didn’t want you to experience this abuse. I don’t know why it happened but I’m going to be here for you whenever you need it.”

4. Affirm Their Worth

Abuse and abusers have a way of making a victim feel worthless. Take every opportunity to let your friend now that they are valuable, worthy, and deserving of love, respect, and justice.

5. Let Them Know It Is Not Their Fault

Abusers and their supporters will try to tell your victimized friend that the abuse was fully or partially their own fault. This is just another way to hurt the victim. Be clear with your friend, no part of the abuse was their fault. The blame rests fully on the shoulders of the abuser.

6. Give Them Space, But Not Too Much

Your friend may need some space. It’s good to keep checking in periodically to let them know you are still there if they need you, but make sure you respect their need for space. One exception to this rule would be if your friend is is feeling like hurting themselves or others. In that case, call the police or an abuse response hotline for help.

7. Be Ready to Suggest Professional Resources

If your friend has recently experienced sexual abuse, offer to go with them to the hospital, the polices station, or to help them find a counselor and local sexual assault response center.

8. Respect Their Boundaries

After abuse, survivors sometimes experience something called “triggers.” Triggers can result from sight, smell, touch, or other senses that remind the survivor of the abuse they experienced and cause them to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable. You friend might not want to visit certain places, see particular people, or engage in physical affection (such as hugs) like they once did. That is ok. And as their friend, it’s important to let them know that you will respect this.

9. Let Them Know You Support THEIR Method of Safe Healing

Everyone heals a little differently. Different types of therapy work for different people. Different boundaries are necessary for different people. Different ways of sharing their story are good for different people. Let your friend know you support their healing methods, as long as they are safe for the survivor and those around them.

Steve’s question about how to be a good friend to a sexual abuse survivor drew in some great answers. I encourage you to weigh in on the conversation and to follow Steve on Twitter!

-Ashley Easter

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