“Hope and Healing: Supporting Victims of Sexual Abuse,” Liahona, April 2017
Sexual abuse can cause deep emotional pain, altered thinking, and unhealthy behaviors. As they seek healing, many victims will need both the power of Jesus Christ and professional help. They will also need the Christlike support of those around them. Here are five ways friends, family members, and Church leaders can help.
Know what sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse is any nonconsensual interaction that involves touching or non-touching behaviors in which a person is used for the sexual gratification of another person. Many victims don’t recognize that what occurred was abuse, yet they may still develop unhealthy behaviors and painful emotions.
Understand how the abused feel. Often, victims of sexual abuse are left with confused thinking and feelings of unworthiness and shame.
Consider your words. The pain and suffering victims experience is often intensified by others’ comments rooted in a misunderstanding of sexual abuse and its effects. Blaming the victim or making statements like “get over it” or “just forgive and forget” can lead the victim to increased secrecy and shame rather than healing and peace.
Listen and love. When victims trust you enough to share with you their sufferings and abuses, conversations with them should begin with love and empathy for them.
Acknowledge and validate feelings. Like a physical injury, if abuse is ignored, it often does not heal properly. Like having a broken leg reset, healing from emotional wounds often involves allowing the feelings of being hurt, scared, and sad to be felt, acknowledged, and validated.