Disclosing Abuse: How to Show Support and Break Stigmas
Dec 05, 2017
Recently, media outlets have spotlighted Hollywood celebrities who have come forward to disclose sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment. Hearing these stories may make us reflect on our own experiences with abuse, whether we were a victim or a bystander. Victims may become triggered by hearing these detailed stories, which means they are re-living their traumatic experiences. Bystanders (individuals who witness abuse or violence) may begin to reflect back and question what they could have done, or should have done, and feel a sense of regret.
Unfortunately, when a topic like this gets national coverage, it perpetuates opportunities for victim blaming. For this reason, among many others, such as feelings of fear, shame, and powerlessness, victims either delay coming forward about the abuse, or choose not to disclose it at all.
Disclosing abuse and trauma can be very difficult for survivors, especially for children. Children are often times abused by an adult that they know and trust, including family members or family friends.
Survivors of abuse experience a variety of emotions, including guilt, shame, depression or hopelessness. These are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. It is important for our community to create a safe environment for survivors to disclose.
When a survivor comes forward about his or her experiences, there are a few things that we as a society can practice in order to make them feel comforted, supported and heard – and most importantly, believed.
Sharing the hashtag #MeToo on social media has encouraged many survivors of abuse, violence and harassment to come forward, realize that they are not alone and to have worldwide support via online communities.
Below, you will find specific phrases from Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Hotline. These are phrases recommended to show support to survivors at their time of disclosing and set them on the right path to healing. These empowering statements are applicable to survivors of all types of abuse.
“I believe you; it took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
“You aren’t alone; I’m here to help in any way that I can.”
“It’s not your fault; you didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you; thank you for trusting me and sharing this with me.”
Abusive behaviors have one thing in common – the goal of total power and control. Abuse can mean many things, including emotional, financial, digital, sexual and physical abuse. People of all ages can experience abuse and violence, from young children to the elderly.
If someone discloses to you that they have been abused and you aren’t sure what to do next, The Center for Family Safety and Healing has created a first-of-its-kind bystanders campaign, Where’s The Line? The campaign is designed to increase awareness of family violence and to change the behaviors of individuals who witness or learn of these acts. Though the campaign is based in central Ohio, anyone may contact Where’s The Line? with questions or concerns via call, text or chat. Learn more about how you can help break the cycle of abuse at www.WheresTheLine.info.
Lynn Rosenthal is the president of The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH), which takes an integrated team approach to breaking the cycle of family violence and child abuse.
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