STEP 1: Stay as calm as possible and listen with a caring heart.
I know this is hard, but it is important for you to stay calm so that you can HEAR as many details as possible. If you interrupt your loved one with your intense (but understandable) emotions, you might miss important details and s/he may not feel comfortable to share more information with you in the future.
STEP 2: NEVER SAY THE FOLLOWING STATEMENTS!!!
You may experience a flood of mixed emotions, but the MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR YOU TO REALIZE is that the abuse your loved one experience is NEVER EVER HIS/HER FAULT! DO NOT SAY:
Don't Say: "How come you didn't tell me earlier?"
Never blame your loved one for not telling you an sooner than s/he is now! BE HAPPY that your loved one is telling you at all. Because of psychological manipulation and implanted fear, most victims of sexual abuse NEVER TELL ANYONE. So consider yourself blessed if your loved one trusts you enough to tell one of the most shameful parts of their past.
Don't Say: "I don't believe you"
This is one of the WORST THINGS you can say to a victim of sexual abuse. You risk damaging your relationship with your loved one for life. I understand that it is hard to understand why it might have taken so long for your loved one to tell you, and it might be hard to imagine the perpetrator (usually a family member of friend of the victim) would ever do such a thing. However, it is important for you to know that MOST OF THE TIME (93% of the time), the perpetrator and victim know each other. And most likely, YOU know the perpetrator too. So automatically, you may feel many feelings such as confusion, anger, guilt, sadness, disbelief, and denial.
Don't Say: "Well, don't tell anyone anymore. It is better to just move forward and forget about it."
The ONLY WAY for a victim to heal is to tell the truth. Again, the fact that your loved one chose YOU to tell the truth to means s/he trusts you to hear and honor and protect him/her. The reason he/she didn't tell for so long because his/her perpetrator(s) instilled fear and shame into her very being so that s/he would never tell.
It takes incredible courage for a victim to FINALLY tell the truth. Instead of further shaming the victim by encouraging him/her to keep it a secret, you should encourage your loved one to tell more people and YOU should tell people too on his/her behalf so that family member, friends, and your community know the truth.
The truth clears up past misunderstanding and protects the community.
Don't Say: "You must have been promiscuous and led him/her on. You deserve what you got."
Unfortunately, many victims hear these sorts of ignorant and cruel statements from their family members. This is an absolutely disgrace when a family member or friend tries to blame and shame the victim when the blame and shame 100% belongs to the perpetrator.
Here is a definition of what sexual assault is from RAINN.ORG:
All forms of sexual assault are NEVER EVER the fault of the victim. Please read this article to familiarize yourself with the different types of sexual assault.
STEP 3: Continue to stay calm and JUST LISTEN.
The more you allow your loved one to speak and tell you details, the better. When your loved one is welcomed to tell the truth, you are helping your loved feel safe and to heal. Never force your loved one to tell you more than she/he is ready to tell you. Just listen and be happy that your loved one trusts you enough to tell you anything. Telling the truth for a victim of sexual abuse is more challenging than you could ever imagine. Things you can say here and there to foster trust and to help your loved one heal are:
"I BELIEVE YOU."
"WOW, THANK YOU FOR HAVING THE COURAGE TO TELL ME. I KNOW IT MUST BE HARD FOR YOU TO FINALLY TELL THIS TO ME."
"WOW, THANK YOU FOR TRUSTING ME ENOUGH TO TELL ME."
"WOW, YOU ARE A SURVIVOR. NONE OF THAT WAS YOUR FAULT. NONE OF IT."
"I'M SORRY THIS HAPPENED TO YOU. YOU DID NOT DESERVE THIS."
"YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I AM HERE FOR YOU."
STEP 4: THANK you loved one for telling you the truth and continue to offer your loved one support.
After your loved one is finished telling you his/her story, THANK him/her for sharing this with you. Tell him/her you feel honored that he/she trusted you enough to tell and you will continue to hold his/her heart with gentleness and care. Check up on your loved one regularly to make sure your loved one is okay. Tell your loved one you are here for him/her and that you will help them to heal the best you can.
If your loved one's perpetrator is still alive, it may be a good idea to press charges to protect the community from this perpetrator. Perpetrators often abuse dozens if not hundreds of victims within their lifetime. Your loved one is most likely NOT the only victim of this perpetrator. You and your loved one may not feel ready to press charges because you may be afraid to break up the family or make the perpetrator angry. But realize if you do not press charges, you may put many more people in danger. Here is information on how to report sexual crimes. I highly encourage you to read it: https://www.rainn.org/reporting-and-criminal-justice-system
STEP 5: Feel free to book a phone call session with me!
Many secondary survivors (loved ones of survivors of child sexual abuse) struggle with knowing exactly how to best support their loved one after this initial conversation. I am here for you! Let's get on a free call together to brainstorm what can be done to help your loved one who survived such atrocities. BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
More resources on how to talk with survivors of sexual assault: