Have you ever felt that it’s hard to really know what to say or do whenever someone you care about is hurting? Many people will tell you that after a death of a loved one they are quickly inundated with people wanting to help, but within days, those that offered comfort have faded away. Elderly who cannot get out much and those who are homebound due to illness often suffer greatly from loneliness because visitors are few and far between. Survivors who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence frequently endure the same ghosting from friends and family, often because those that would comfort them just don’t know what to say. There’s awkwardness when you don’t feel you have the right words and usually it ends up feeling easier just to stay away. However, those who are hurting need you to support them by being an active part of their life. In recognition of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to share some ways you can continue to show them you care.
First, realize that survivors need a safe place to talk about things and be heard. They need to be able to put their feelings into words and have you listen to them, really hear them and most of all, believe them. Don’t make them feel like a burden, but let them talk about it as long as needed. By telling their story, they are getting out the pain, one conversation at a time.
Secondly, remember that you aren’t there to “fix” them. When someone who has experienced a trauma talks to you, they aren’t expecting you to have all the answers. It is healing for them to verbally express their feelings and be validated.
Thirdly, don’t try to put them in a bubble and protect them. If it’s a death of a loved one, let them talk about the person they lost, keep pictures out and let them share their memories. If it’s an elderly person who is homebound, let them reminisce even if they tell the same tales over and over. If it’s a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence, listen to their stories and acknowledge what they experienced and remind them that it’s not their fault. You can share your life with them too, so they feel connected. This can help them to remember that life does go on and they do have a future.
Finally, know what resources are available nearby so you can share as needed. Educate yourself about emergency housing, food assistance, uninsured medical care, domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, clothing assistance, and such that is available in your area. You will feel much more confident in helping someone if you are prepared. You don’t have to keep a long list of resources. 2-1-1 is available across the state and with one call you can access contact information on basic human needs.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. We have an office located in Jackson County which you can contact at 256.574.5826. We are also available to come speak to your service group and help educate on all the services we provide. And we offer a 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, where you can reach a trained crisis counselor at any time. If you have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence, reach out today. You are not alone.