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Do’s and Don’ts for Family Members

Here are ways you can be helpful in the crisis of your survivor:

  1. Be supportive. Listen closely and tenderly. Indicate you care and appreciate her feelings.
  2. Don’t pry or ask for details and specifics. Give her the opportunity to talk about her feelings, fears and reactions in her own way.
  3. Recognize your own limitations in support. Her feelings and needs are most important right now. If she finds it difficult to talk, just be with her.
  4. Don’t tell her what she must or must not do. The decision to report or not is hers alone.
  5. See that she gets sensitive and competent medical attention and counseling. Seeking assistance doesn’t mean she must file a police report or press charges.
  6. Seek professional help for yourself. Find someone you can talk to about your own feelings in helping the survivor.
  7. Give the survivor the benefit of the doubt. Prejudgments can shut out new messages.


  1. The words “rape” and “incest” are repulsive to many in our society. From my experiences, personal and professional, I have found many family members spouses, parents, siblings, grandparents and so on, who, if they must face the issues of rape or incest with their family members, want to gloss over the issue by saying negative things like, “It’s over. Get over it”, “It was no big deal”, “You little x*@, you seduced . . .”, “You must have done something to deserve it”, or my all time hated statement to hear, “You aren’t a good Christian, you haven’t forgiven”, “What’s wrong with you?”, “I don’t want to talk about it any more”.
    I was 6 when I was incested by a relative, age 17. The effects this has had on me have taken years to address. Like most survivors of sexual impropriety or trauma there was a lot of confusion, low self esteem, poor boundaries, lonliness, co-dependency to protect the abuser, fear of others, shame, guilt, mistrust of self and others, anger at others and God, and an inability to sort out strong urges and emotions ignited by the incest. All survivors are impacted to some degree by what they experienced depending on their resiliency, the age when they were violated, how often they were violated, where they were violated, how they were violated, what kind of coersion was used (words of tenderness and love can be just as devastating as violent trauma), how close in proximity the perpetrator lived in relationship to the victim and so on.
    To family members I would like to say, your loved one needs your support. It is not over for them. Trying to brush it under the rug or tell the person to get over it only re-violates them by minimizing the effect this has had on them, minimizes the importance of how the victim sees themselves, and increases their pain and guilt because they can not get over it. Since it was a person who hurt me I needed people to assist in my healing. I wish it would have been my family. I did need people who would accept me, not blame me or say that the perpetrator was “a better relative to them than I was a daughter.” I needed people to comfort me, remind me I was the one hurt, not the one who was hurting the perpetrator. I needed protection and someone to be angry and sad WITH me. I needed to be the one invited to family events and the perpetrator needed to be told he/she not welcome till he/she had gotten help and I was okay with it. I needed encouragement to learn to trust myself, to set boundaries with others and for them to be okay with the reasonable boundaries I did set. I needed to be told I was precious, loved deeply, and that others would stand by me in my journey to reclaim what was lost. Please be a positive influence to your family member who has been wronged and hurt. Pretending it is over because you are uncomfortable or tired of dealing with this may not be what your loved one needs.

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