12th December, 2014
By Aidy Thomas
Providing support for sexually violated people can be quite difficult especially if you are not professionally trained to do so. Hundreds and thousands of negative thoughts can overtake your reasoning including a very strong desire for revenge.
The position and approach of helpers would determine to a very great extent how soon and well a victim is able to recover and face life again. Yes it depends on who is involved; some victims could be scared to hear the word revenge because of fear of their attackers returning for more harm while others receive strength once they know someone is ready to plead their cause – this is where consultation and agreeing with the person is key. If they seem not clear on what they want, you just concentrate on assuring them of things that would aid their quick recovery.
•Medical Attention: It is important to seek medical attention to identify any form of injury and administer appropriate medication. Rape can result in quite a number of life threatening diseases and the sooner the victim is examined and treated, the greater the chances of healing. Getting people to agree to see a Dr can be a huge challenge but if you constantly assure them that it’s for their own safety and comfort, the voice of reason might finally prevail. In cases of physical injury, medication can soothe the discomfort thus making it easier to cope; it is difficult to recover from abuse when the physical pain is still very strong.
•Emotional Support: I’m tempted to say that emotional support is everything when it comes to working with someone who has been sexually assaulted. If you are not able to blend with their emotional side, nothing much can be accomplished. You’ll be shocked that even medical help can be turned down once they do not feel connected to you emotionally or at least believe you are standing with them. Being available for people emotionally entails feeling their pulse and being sensitive to what they can accept and how much of it at a given time.
•Empathy: Empathy is part of emotional support but here, you go a step further to actually put yourself in the position of the aggrieved and try to see things from their perspective. The ideal attitude that expresses empathy should be; ‘it could have been me’, if it were me’, and the right question that follows should be; ‘How would I want to be treated’? Being able to answer these questions and many more would create a mole that prepares you to effectively support another person.
•Effective Communication: Without mincing words, this is the hardest part of the deal- knowing exactly what will work for someone in a specific circumstance of abuse. Some victims are just not ready or willing to say anything while others would be eager to narrate their ordeal. Yet you can be faced with a different scenario where the person is neither too eager to talk or totally reluctant to provide information. Here, your communication skills must come to play.
There is need to be sensitive to the leaning of the affected person because applying force or threat to retrieve information can be considered as another form of ‘rape’- a forceful act they are unwilling to participate in.
The manner with which you pass your message will go a long way to determine how well your message will be received and the impact it can make. Great care should be taken not to delve into areas which are highly sensitive and remind the person of the painful experience and whatever they are unwilling to disclose should be respected. Words should be carefully chosen so the person does not get the impression of being blamed for what happened.
Even if you think they would have done something differently to avoid the situation, resist the temptation to show it as that is not what the victim needs at this time; all that is needed is ‘tender loving care’. If you indulge in blaming, the situation will definitely get worse and the person might end up living in guilt for the rest of their life. Avoid questions that force the violated to explain why she was at that particular place at that time and what she was doing in the company of such people and why those kinds of clothes were worn at that the time of incident. Once someone feels blamed; they may become aggressive, insulting, irresponsive or totally shut down on you.
It is better to emphasise that the attack was not the fault of the victim in anyway; it was a silly act of a frustrated wonderer who decided to show his strength with a weaker vessel – that is why asking someone for evidence of resisting the attack is a rude approach and accusing them of enjoying the contact is total nonsense.
People have spent their whole life believing that rape victims played a part in attracting the criminals to hurt them but research has shown that rape is more of an expression of anger, power, domination and the drive to exploit rather than just sexual urge.
Listening is a valuable skill when dealing with violated people. Some of them only need a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on; talk less, pay undivided attention, nod and hiss where necessary-all these can be very useful.
•Counselling: Any form of therapy that will assist in restoring life to a victim should be carefully selected. Again, they have to agree to whatever options available and go with the one that best suit them. What works for one person might never work for another so great care should be taken to deliver personalised services. There are people whose first response is withdrawal while to others hanging out with a lot of loved ones gives the assurance of love and protection and the fear of being attacked in the company of others vanishes.
You need to explore useful options together and see which one best suits the situation. Removing scenes and things that constantly remind the person of what happened may help but don’t be surprised if another person openly asks to be taken to that very place where it all happened so they can draw inspiration to fight for others – this is how so many people have become activists today; they are fighting to stop the monster that confronted them.
•Acceptance: one of the greatest gifts you can offer any human being is ‘acceptance’. People want you to take them for who they are and not judge them by what has happened to them or condemn them for not belonging to a certain class. Show love as much as you can and be supportive in every way.