The response to child sexual abuse can be as impactful as the abuse itself.
Let’s sit with this for a minute. When a survivor discloses that they were sexually abused as a child, the response the survivor receives can shape the trajectory moving forward. A caring, open, and grounded response can bring a sense of safety and security. A disbelieving, questioning, dismissive response can bring a sense of isolation and shame. A number of survivors have told us that some of the responses they received felt more harmful than the abuse itself.
All too often, our culture’s response to child sexual abuse creates more harm. From the Catholic Church to school systems to athletic programs, the news right now is filled with examples of what we don’t want to happen when a survivor courageously comes forward: otherizing survivors and using anger and fear of child sex abuse for political gain.
So, OAASIS community, let’s try to embody what we do want to happen.
- Believe the survivor. Show this in your words and your actions.
- Listen with an open heart and mind.
- Keep listening with an open heart and mind.
- Understand that the survivor is in the lead. It isn’t your role to fix anything.
- Understand that your role is important. Be trustworthy and supportive to the best of your ability.
- Let the survivor know the abuse wasn’t their fault.
- Know that people can heal from the trauma of child sexual abuse.
- Trust that the survivor knows what they need to live more fully. If the survivor wants your help in accessing support, provide it to the best of your ability.
- If your response causes harm, be humble and try to repair the harm, if the survivor is in a place where they want to have that conversation with you.
- Realize that no one has all of the answers (including OAASIS). We can continue to learn and grow and change together.
It may seem simple. It may not always seem easy. Together, let’s try to provide a caring, open, grounded response so more survivors can be safe and supported on their healing journeys.
If you’d like more information, please check out more of our website, your local child advocacy center, or your local domestic and sexual violence services program. If you’d like to help OAASIS continue to learn and grow, please answer our survey.
We are the community. Let’s be the change.