As we talk about different ways to stand in power against sexual violence this month, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the tremendous power of healing. The road from victim to survivor and thriver begins with knowing that “it’s OK to tell,” but only progresses with the knowledge that it’s also OK to heal. As we enter the third week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, we are honored to highlight the journey of healing and survivorship.
Here at Lauren’s Kids, we know children and adults can and do heal from sexual abuse…just ask Maya Angelou, Simone Biles, Oprah, Senator Lauren Book, or our courageous friends of all ages who have received services from the Nancy J. Cotterman Sexual Assault Treatment Center in Broward County, the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City, and other advocacy centers.
While the road is undoubtedly filled with twists and turns – and is, at times, one step forward and several steps back – the journey from victim to survivor and thriver is not only possible…it’s powerful. Whether you or someone you love suffered abuse days, weeks, months, or even years ago, it is never too late to heal, and there are community resources available regardless of your ability to pay.
Healing is a lifelong practice, and it can help to have trained trauma therapists, supportive family, caring friends, and positive examples of other strong survivors to help give you a boost when you need it. Love, support, understanding, and counseling contribute to a survivor’s recovery and ability to develop skills to heal and cope across the lifespan.
Here are some ways you can help a child you love in their healing journey:
- Regain trust – Your child’s trust has been violated, and this is especially true if the abuser was a family member or someone they love. Your child may have complicated feelings about their abuser; remain a safe person by withholding your own very valid feelings of anger and betrayal toward this person. You can help your child regain trust by listening without judgment, developing a safety plan together, and allowing a self-paced recovery. Saying things like, “Your safety is very important to me,” and “I will never knowingly leave you alone with your abuser again” builds trust, as long as you keep your word.
- Learn about the impact this trauma can have on your child – Finding out your child has been sexually abused is, in most cases, stressful for the whole family. You may feel guilty, angry, and numb, or have difficulty accepting the news or believing it is true. Your child is also dealing with the aftermath of disclosure. Some of your child’s behaviors may be difficult for you to manage, especially when you are experiencing stress. Knowing what behaviors to expect, learning relevant and necessary parenting strategies, and understanding that such behavior is a normal reaction to trauma can provide perspective and coping skills. (Not sure where to begin? Check out our “Guide to Hope & Healing” in the resource section below.)
- Talk about it – Let your child know that it’s okay to talk about what happened. Be a good listener and do not judge, blame, or argue with your child as thoughts and feelings about the abuse are expressed. If you feel overwhelmed by what your child is disclosing, it is okay to set limits. For example: “I am so proud of you for using your voice, let’s talk for another five minutes – then why don’t you write a poem about how you’re feeling?,” to limit the time spent listening, or say, “Let’s go for a walk while we talk,” to change the setting of the conversation. Either technique can help you listen when it may be hard for you to do so.
- Take care of yourself, too – Remember, if your own cup is empty, you will have nothing to pour into the cups of others. Take a walk, meditate, read a book or watch a favorite show, put on some calming music and take a long shower, or consider joining a support group for families dealing with the aftermath of abuse. Even taking 10 minutes to do something for yourself can make a big difference.
Before we share the resource library below, Lauren’s Kids would like to take a moment to say THANK YOU to all of the allies out there who help survivors as they work to heal. From SANE Nurses who ensure privacy, respect, and as much comfort as possible during sexual assault exams to members of the special victims unit and state attorneys who work to get justice, victims advocates and trauma therapists, children’s advocacy center and sexual assault treatment center staff, and any and everyone who is a part of a survivor’s healing journey, thank you for doing what you do each and every day. Your dedication changes lives. Your commitment saves lives. You are as powerful as the incredible survivors you serve.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou
The following resources may be helpful to survivors and those who love them.
- Guide to Hope & Healing – Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence created the “Guide to Hope and Healing” to provide essential information and answer questions that often arise after a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse, available at no cost to families. Access digitally or order a printed copy at shop.laurenskids.org.
- Survivor Stories – The Lauren’s Kids Survivor Stories portal is a place for survivors to anonymously, cathartically, and bravely share their stories – and find strength and solidarity in the journey of others. Submit yours here.
- It’s OK to Tell and Lauren’s Kingdom – Lauren has written two best-selling books about survivorship and safety; her memoir, It’s OK to Tell, chronicles her journey and helps survivors realize they are not alone; Lauren’s Kingdom is a children’s picture book which teaches children that “If you’re choking back tears and your heart’s filled with fears, you know very well, It’s OK to Tell.” Learn more.
- Journey Home – An EMMY Award-nominated and Gracie Award-winning television special focused on the resilience of survivors at the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City following Category 5 storm Hurricane Michael, and showcasing our renovation and recovery efforts to provide a safe space for survivors. Watch below: