Accompanying Survivors

The most important thing that you can do for a victim/survivor/thriver is to listen. Listen carefully, thoughtfully and with your ears, eyes and a heart of compassion. Do not rush to give advice or offer counsel; simply listen. Do not ask questions, except to check in with the person—"Are you O.K.?" Also, ask the person what you can do for them—let them lead the way. Always maintain privacy—their story is not yours to share with anyone (unless, the person is disclosing about child sexual abuse, and that person is a minor—in that scenario, you would need to communicate to the child protective services within your state). In any case, don't rush to give advice—don't feel that it is your job to solve things—offer encouragement that empowers the person—not a list of things to do and to accomplish. Never touch a person who discloses their abuse unless you have their permission to do so… We can't presume to know what a person feels about others touching them.

When we don't know what to say or do, and very often in these situations there are no words to offer, initially we may feel that a hug might help. However, please be mindful that for the victim/survivor, sexual abuse involves trust and the inability to obtain control over their situation and environment. Just remember that the hug you want to offer might be more for you than for the victim/survivor you are accompanying. It takes patience and lots of careful attention to listening and watching body language so that your approach is helpful and productive. What is most important is to mind your own boundaries. Model good self-care by putting yourself first and managing your own boundaries so that you are not overwhelmed and overcome. Honoring and respecting the process of accompanying a victim includes utmost attention to your own space, and to the space of others. May your journey be blessed!

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