How do I handle sexual abuse?

Some background, some drama

Why did this happen to me? Did I do something to encourage the assault? Why didn't I resist more or fight harder? What sort of person would commit such a crime against another?

How long will it be before I feel like myself again? What can I do to start feeling better? Will I ever be able to put this experience into perspective? One is plagued by all these questions and more when one is a victim of sexual abuse.

Do’s and Don’ts

Consistent, patient, and caring effort is needed by both the survivor and those who are aiding in the healing process. While it is difficult and often painful to work towards recovery from abuse, healing is possible when survivors have access to a support network that can provide them with nurturance, assistance and appropriate levels of care.

The “How Do I" series tries to list down a few Do’s and don’ts to guide you and help you handle sexual abuse.


  • Know and understand what sexual assault, abuse and harassment are.
  • Get medical treatment if you are sexually assaulted or hurt.
  • Know that you are not alone and you are not to blame.
  • Tell someone trustworthy about it. Consider telling the police about it.
  • Acknowledge your feelings as real and legitimate; your thoughts and feelings are not crazy, irrational or non-existent.
  • Be open to reaching out to your family, friends, a counsellor or therapist for information and support.
  • Be mindful to take care of yourself; be aware of what you can do to strengthen yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
  • Learn to relax when you are feeling tense and frightened.
  • See yourself as capable of recovering. Take pride in the steps you are taking to help yourself.
  • Give yourself time to feel better. Although time alone does not heal wounds it does help to maybe soften the pain and hurt.


  • Don’t live in denial of childhood abuse. Many adult survivors have difficulty connecting their current life situation with earlier childhood abuse. Recognising and accepting will help one move on.
  • Don’t hold on to the belief that things can never get better. Remember there is always hope.
  • Don’t fear that you will be consumed by the intensity of your feelings if you begin to deal with the abuse.
  • Don’t fear and feel shame about sharing family secrets. Survivors often fear that to get help is to betray and hurt their families or that they will be punished for exposing family secrets.
  • Don’t fear that you will not be believed because you may not be able to remember the details of the abuse.
  • Don’t be afraid to blame parents or other adults for the abuse. Sometimes these are the same adults who abuse us.
  • Don’t fear taking responsibility for looking after yourself. You have a right to put the abuse behind you and build a new and better life.
  • Don’t fear that there will be nothing left in the advanced stages of healing. As survivors strip away all the old negative beliefs that have been barriers for their lives, they begin to feel that everything they’ve ever known is shifting and nothing is certain. But life does go on…

Last words

Sexual abuse can be a lonely and frightening experience and has lifelong effects. Efforts to build and manage your lives often seem fruitless, hollow or even hopeless. You may be left feeling shocked, confused, and overwhelmed. You may find yourself unprepared to deal with the many thoughts and emotions that arise. You may find that you can't eat, can't sleep or that you're petrified to do things that used to come naturally. But, over time and with all the help and support it is important to put it behind you and try to move on.

Sources and citations