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12 Things Never To Say to Someone Who Has Been Sexually Abused

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.”

This is usually said to show that people cannot be hurt by unpleasant things that are said to them. But this is a lie from the pit of Hell. Whoever wrote these words has no clue.

Words are so vital that Jesus is called the Word of God.

One in every four girls and one in every six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Only 10% of cases are reported because of the shame and stigma connected with abuse.

Do you know what these numbers mean? They mean that 90% of cases are not reported.

I beg you, if a child, a teen, a friend or a schoolmate reports sexual abuse, this is one of the hardest things the survivor of abuse will ever do. It is true that a secret has power until it is revealed, then it loses power over the person who has been keeping it for years, maybe decades.

If a sexual abuse survivor decides to confide in you, I want you to be forewarned because forewarned is forearmed.

This week I will share with you things never to say to a survivor.

1. What did you do to make this happen?

Let me tell you my life motto here; it is never the victim’s fault that sexual abuse happened. NEVER. This is why my non profit is called Not Guilty. When you say these words, you are just as bad as the perpetrator who puts the responsibility of the abuse on the victim. The shame and guilt that the perpetrator puts on the victim are more than anyone can imagine, so please don’t put more shame and blame on the victim.

A 9-year-old girl told me that her uncle abused her because she was wearing her orange nightie. She carried the guilt of wearing this nightie for years.

2. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?

Once sexual abuse happens, it is never forgotten. One of my patients was abused only once at the age of 7 years old. Today she is 40 years old and has mental issues, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She could never make any close relationships with anyone.

Sexual abuse IS a VERY BIG Deal. I beg you don’t belittle what happened.

3. Why didn’t you stop it from happening?

The perpetual question of those who have never been sexually abused. You know how people who always tell you how you should raise your kids are people who never had children? Or those who tell you what you need to do to lose weight are those who never had a weight problem?

When we face danger, we will either fight, flight (run) or freeze. No one can determine which of the three we will do until we are faced with danger. Many people freeze, and this adds to the shame and guilt they feel. They ask themselves every single day, ‘Why didn’t I fight? I must have wanted this to happen.’

4. If you didn’t tell someone when it happened, why are you reporting this today?

Every survivor asks himself/ herself this question every day. The perpetrator is a master manipulator. He/she grooms the victim to accept abuse. He/she tells the victim lies, and the victim believes them. The victim believes that no one will believe them, or that somehow the victim brought the abuse on himself/ herself.

5. Just forget it and think positive thoughts

Sexual abuse has a toll on the body as well as the mind. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists pot traumatic stress disorder as, ‘persistent symptoms of increased arousal of the autonomic nervous system. The brain and body remember. The trauma continues to intrude the victim’s mind. It is like having an alarm in your brain that you cannot put off.

6. You’re the problem. You’re just using this as an excuse to get your way

No, they are not. This is such a painful and crude thing to say to someone who has been sexually abused.

7. Just pray about it

Many survivors have problems believing in God or prayer. They prayed that the perpetrator would not come and yet he/she did. Survivors develop a prejudice against God: that God cannot be trusted, that He cannot protect them. I had a patient tell me, ‘I hate God.’ I never snapped at her or shunned her. We needed to work together for months for her to forgive the perpetrator, to forgive herself and may I boldly say, to forgive God for what happened to her.

Prayer is essential, and I believe that there is no complete healing without Jesus, the Master Healer, but don’t shove it down the survivor’s throat. Don’t utter these words just because you feel it is the right thing to say. Pray FOR the survivor, pray WITH the survivor, but don’t place more guilt ON the survivor.

8. You should forgive

Ah! Placing more guilt on the survivor. Forgiveness takes time. The victim will forgive when he/ she is ready. Forgiveness is like an onion; it happens in layers and takes time. And God understands this because He created us.

9. I don’t believe you were ever abused

Why would anyone make this up? Just think about it.

One of the primary things in training, actually the first thing in the session, what to do if a case is reported is: believe the child. Even if 1% make it up, is it worth it to disbelieve the 99% who have actually been abused?

10. You’re just feeling sorry for yourself

The child might initially experience the physical excitement and the satisfaction of a reward or may experience heightened stature as a result of sharing a secret with an adult. Later, he suffers the shame and guilt for having enjoyed, or at least not having resisted the experience. He/she may experience shame, believing himself/herself to be responsible for causing the abuse. He/she may later believe he/she is gay/lesbian; gross; perverted or that his/her only value is as a sex object. He/she may fear that he/she will be found out or that he/she will abuse others. The victim is not feeling sorry for himself/herself. The victim is in turmoil.

11. It’s a sin to think about this

Do you remember the last time you had a problem? Or the last time you feared or worried about something terrible happening to you (which may or may not have actually happened later, but you still worried anyway)? You tell yourself you should trust God and have faith, yet you cannot help yourself but lose sleep and worry.

Well, let’s put sexual abuse into perspective: the nightly fear of a father or family friend coming into a child’s room; the worry that someone will find out; the shame if the body reacts; the expenditure of so much energy hiding the secret of abuse; the pain of the abuse; the feeling of worthlessness and loss of control during the abuse; the love-hate relationship with the perpetrator. Can you actually tell me it’s a sin to think about this?

12. You don’t want to get _________(person) in trouble, do you?

This one always surprises me. Why do we defend the criminal and blame the victim? Why didn’t that person think about getting himself/herself into trouble BEFORE the abuse?

Predators are usually super friendly people, very well respected, helpful and very good with children. By the time a predator is caught he/she has abused close to 200 victims before getting caught. Look at Dr. Larry Nassar, the Olympic athletes’ doctor who abused over 200 athletes for decades before anyone believed the girls’ reports.

Our words are powerful. They either build or crush, they either heal or hurt. Use your words to heal survivors of sexual abuse.

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” Matthew 12: 35-37 (NLT)

See you next week. And remember that forewarned is forearmed.

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