Friday, April 12, 2019

Guest Post: How to Support a Friend Who Has Opened up to You About Being Abused


Kate Harveston is a political writer from Pennsylvania. Her favorite topics are feminist-focused, but she writes on a wide variety of social and cultural issues. If you enjoy her work, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

I will always love my college bestie. Though distance now separates us, we maintain contact regularly. I also remain forever in her debt, for if it weren't for her patience, her willingness to listen without judgment and her hugs when I broke down in tears, I might have taken my own life years ago.

I am a survivor of physical abuse in a relationship. But I'm not here to focus on the past. What I want to share today is how my beautiful friend gave me the strength to move on and how you can likewise become an angel to other abuse survivors brave enough to share their stories with you.
The Stigma of Abuse
When those in the media speak about physical and sexual abuse, most viewers assume this is an issue that impacts only women. The #MeToo movement focuses primarily on women who have come together in record numbers to share their stories of harassment and assault. But predators attack men and women alike, and abuse can exist in LGBTQ relationships as well.
Women do fall prey more often due to multiple factors ranging from cultural conditioning to body size. Did you know one in four girls become the victim of sexual abuse before they reach their 18th birthday? Many victims of abuse never report what happened to them, whether the trauma occurred only once or continued for many years. When they do come forward, they often face immense shame and even public ridicule, much like Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford did.
When people like me do open up, we normally don't do so easily. We spill our secrets only to our most trusted friends.
Helping Friends Who Come Forward
Even if we hadn't met during freshman orientation, I believe my college bestie and I would have met eventually, anyway. Like me, she had fallen prey to a predator at an earlier point in her life. She asked me to accompany her to a group support session for survivors of abuse even though she didn't yet know my whole story.
As we were newbies, she said going with a friend would give her courage. Little did I expect to find myself running out of the meeting room bawling harder than I ever had. I ran blindly, slid on a muddy patch in the grass, put my head down between my knees and wept in the pouring rain until I felt an arm around me.
After we both dried ourselves off of raindrops and teardrops, we sat on the top bunk of her dorm room bed. For the first time ever, I shared my story with another human being. If she hadn't been so receptive and caring, I may not be writing this today.
Here's how she saved my life.
  1. She listened. My bestie never interrupted me. She let me go on, even when my emotional state made it difficult to follow my story from one point to another. She nodded. She held my hand. She let me know she cared and encouraged me to continue without saying a word.
  2. She skipped the blame game. She didn't need sensitivity training to know that we were both survivors who had journeyed through hell. My bestie knew perfectly well we didn't bring abuse on ourselves.
  3. She asked what I needed. My bestie didn't insist I begin therapy. She did give me the 411 about the free help available on campus. She didn't insist on going to the cops or telling anyone in authority. She simply told me to text her, regardless of the hour, if I felt close to the edge. I hadn't told her I had contemplated suicide. Fellow survivors just know.
  4. She believed me without question. My bestie never asked for the specifics on the abuse I experienced. She never asked why I didn't try telling another adult. She knew once someone is betrayed, especially by a person they trusted so much, they grow anxious about approaching others.
Supporting Survivors
Because many cases of sexual and physical abuse go unreported until physical evidence is lost, women reporting these crimes to law enforcement face heavy scrutiny about one of the most difficult events in their lives. Women who trust a friend enough to open up about such abuse deserve compassion, not cross-examination. During these difficult times where a lot of triggering and upsetting discussion is being thrown around about women in the media and political scene, we need to be there for each other now more than ever. Listening to an abuse survivor may just save a life.

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