How do I help my friend who disclosed sexual abuse?

by Faye

HOW DO I HELP HER? One of my best friends, she's been physically and emotionally abused by various people, and also raped twice. She tells me about all this, but only to not be alone with it. She won't let me do anything about it. I can't go into detail because I know she wouldn't want me mentioning this, even anonymously, and if she were to find this (unlikely) she'd be very upset. I can't lose her because I'm all she has and I'm afraid of what she would do if she had no one to talk to or call in the middle of the night. This is why I haven't gone against her wishes. But I want to help her because I know she's hurting. Yet it's all things that are impossible to really prove. She has no evidence, only words, and words can be twisted. I don't want to mess things up for her. How can I convince her that we can do something about it? Can we? I'm so used to taking care of myself and my friends without outside help, but this is so so much further than my reach. I'm 17. How do I help someone who doesn't want to be helped?

Reply from Darlene: Faye, I come from a country where there can be no secrets. I come from a country where you would be legally obligated to report what your friend has disclosed to you. The reason there can be no secrets is because as long as people who know about abuse don't report it, then the abuse is allowed to go on. The abuse is enabled.

But this isn't about whether or not you are legally obligated to report; this is about what friends—real friends—should do to ensure the safety and well-being of each other.

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Comments for How do I help my friend who disclosed sexual abuse?

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Jun 30, 2008
True friendship...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Faye, you said you believe your friend is telling you all about what happened to her and swearing you to secrecy, all because she doesn't want to be alone with it. But what about you, Faye? What about your feelings and the impossible position she has put you in by making you promise not to tell anyone? You are being eaten up by this. YOU need to tell someone. You are way over your head here.

You're worried that you'll lose your friendship with her, but do you really and truly believe that a true friend would throw your friendship out the window because you tried to get her some help? Even if she is angry with you to begin with—and she may well be—do you not think highly enough of your friend to believe that eventually she will come to realize that telling someone was a heartfelt act meant to keep her safe? Has it occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, your friend is secretly reaching out to you so that you WILL tell someone? Has it occurred to you that talking to you is her way of crying for help, not just as a sounding board, but for the purpose of making the abuse stop?

You've asked me how to help someone who doesn't want to be helped. If she was an adult, the simple answer would be "not a whole heck of a lot." But you are both minors. SHE isn't thinking clearly. And YOU'RE thinking about this from an angle that requires a shift. You must think in terms of her safety rather than in terms of what she is going to think of you. No matter what anyone says, you will NOT be betraying her by telling. Only by telling will your friend have access to the type of help she really needs, help that you can't give her.

The next time you talk with your friend, tell her that you can no longer keep the secret. Tell her that you love her and that you care too much about her to allow her to be abused. Tell her that you will be a support for her when it's time to disclose. Follow the H.E.A.R.S. method I've given on my Intervention page. The rest is up to her.

And don't forget to take care of yourself, Faye. YOU too need someone to talk with: a parent, a counsellor at school, a trusted teacher. If you don't believe that you can trust anyone face to face, consider contacting Child Help at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). They have professionally trained counsellors available 24/7 who can offer you some assistance. Visit their website by copying & pasting the following URL into your browser: Just don't be alone with this. You are every bit as deserving of help as your friend is.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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