Information for Whānau and friends
Supporting your loved one in recovery
When you discover someone you love and care about has been sexually abused, your response - and ongoing responses - to that person are important to their recovery.
The right answers and remarks don't come easy, Encouraging words and phrases that avoid judgement and encourage sharing and connection will go a long way. The right disposition in response to the traumatic event your loved one has experienced will be felt before it's heard.
What should I say?
‘I’m so sorry this happened to you.’
Acknowledge what your loved one has been through. To express empathy, you can say things like ‘This must be so hard for you’ or 'I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me'.
‘None of this was your fault.’
Survivors will often blame themselves for the abuse – especially if they know the perpetrator. Keep reinforcing the fact that they are not to blame in any way for what happened.
‘I believe you.’
Fear and shame will often cause a survivor not to share their story with anyone. So will the strong fear that they won't be believed. They must absolutely know that you believe them. This is one of the very best things you can do.
‘You aren’t alone in this – I’m with you.’
Proactively be that person who will stand by and assist your loved one. This will give them more strength than you know.
‘Do you think you should speak to somebody who knows how to help you?’
This is a great time to gently help your loved one contact specialists trained to help the survivor recover. You can contact us about this.
‘You can trust me.’
If your loved one talks to you about the abuse they experienced, it means they trust you. Be loyal to that and reinforce this trust. Never share their story without their explicit consent.
‘This doesn’t in any way change how I think about you.’
There’s a tremendous amount of guilt wrapped up in the trauma of abuse for the survivor. Hearing these words from you can make all the difference in the world.
What should I do?
Avoid making judgements
It can be really hard watching your loved one go through the effects of sexual abuse. Avoid any behaviour or talk that makes your person think ‘He/she thinks I should be over this by now'.
Keep checking in
Even if the abuse happened some time ago, the pain will still be there. Let your loved one know you are there for them whenever they want to talk about what happened to them.
Help them maintain their independence
A survivor of sexual abuse might feel like a large amount of their physical and emotional selves have been violated or stripped away.
The small ways that you can help them rebuild their independence in the immediate aftermath can make a huge difference. Follow their lead and help support them in making the decisions that are right for them - even if it's just about what to have for dinner or whether to stay home all weekend or take a walk with the dog.
Respect and validate their reactions - even if you don't think those reactions are 'normal'
How you think someone should act after they've been abused and how they actually do act, can be completely different things.
Know your resources. You love your person, but you may not be equipped to help them deal with the effects of abuse. You can contact us for help and advice. You can visit other helpful New Zealand sexual abuse recovery websites such as Wellington Rape Crisis, Sexual Abuse Education and our sister organisation Auckland HELP.
Remember there is no timetable for trauma recovery
Avoid any behaviour – however well-intentioned – to get your loved one involved in activities they aren’t ready for.
Know what to do in an emergency
If your loved one is talking of suicide you can call our 24/7 Crisis Support line 04 801 6655, or call CCDHB’s Crisis Assessment & Treatment Team (CATT) at any time on 0800 745 477.
How Do I Look After Myself While I Support My Loved One?
Supporting someone who has suffered through sexual abuse can be mentally and emotionally challenging. Even exhausting. You need to take care of yourself.
Here are some self-care tips to consider:
Maintain your lifestyle
It can be difficult to stay strong emotionally when supporting a survivor of sexual abuse. Maintaining your lifestyle and continuing to do what you enjoy is important for your emotional wellness.
If you enjoy painting, cooking, exercising, spending time with friends, or other activities, keep them up. It may seem challenging to make time to do these activities, but they can be helpful self-care strategies in the long-ru
Make plans and carry them out
Sometimes talking about what you're going through as a supporter of your loved one can help. Just remember at all times to respect the privacy and confidentiality of the person you're supporting.
Take time out regularly to do things you really enjoy. Take a mental break from thinking about your support situation. This will recharge you personally, and you'll be a much more meaningful, present and capable supporter.
You could go to dinner with a group of friends who understand this isn't time to discuss what happened. Maybe you prefer a solo activity, like going on long walks. Let this be a time where you can take your mind off the abuse your Loved One has suffered.
Take time to relax
This is worth reinforcing again. Relaxation means different things for everyone. You might consider meditation or deep breathing exercises. Maybe keeping a journal will help you sort through your thoughts and find peace. Actually schedule these things - whatever they are for you - into your day for these moments of relaxation so that you don't miss out due to your own busy life.
Whether you have experienced something similar in the past or not, you may experience an unexpected upheaval of emotions. Everything from shock to anger to grief is extremely common.
You may be surprised at the range of your own emotional responses. Look out for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Remember, you are your loved one's supporter - not their therapist. HELP is here to support you too, as you support your loved one. If you need assistance and advice yourself, please get in touch with us.
Other sources of support
Find out what ACC will cover and ways they can be of support
Just like us, but in Auckland
A point forward for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
Works to eliminate rape and sexual abuse through education and community work.
A free publicly funded alcohol and drug rehabilitation service.
Services supporting migrant and refugee women affected by family violence.
Provides information about preventing child sexual abuse by raising awareness and encouraging early recognition and responses to the problem by the abusers themselves and those close to them.
24-hour support for people affected by crime or trauma.
Is a support centre for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, their families, friends and whānau.
Family violence services for Tauiwi and Māori women in the Wellington and Porirua region.
Provides programmes for children, adolescents and adults who have engaged in concerning, harmful or abusive sexual behaviour, and to provide support for their families.
Medical Sexual Assault Clinicians Aotearoa is the acknowledged New Zealand expert body in sexual assault/abuse based medicine. Their purpose is to improve the wellbeing of all people affected by sexual violence. (Previously known as MEDSAC).
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is any sexual activity imposed on you that you don't want. It is committed when someone in a position of power or authority takes advantage of your vulnerability, respect and trust, and forces you into any kind of sexual activity you have not consented to.
What are the effects of sexual abuse?
Immediately after a sexual abuse event it's common to feel shock, numbness, guilt and disbelief.
These instant reactions can be followed by a range of effects including:
a sense of loss of control or powerlessness
shame, guilt and self-blame
flashbacks and nightmares
a sense of being detached from reality or separate from your own body,
What is meant by the term 'rape culture'?
It's a term we are hearing a lot about in New Zealand at the moment. Rape culture refers to cultural attitudes and environments that either trivialise or even normalise sexual abuse.
Examples of rape culture include:
blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
trivialising sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
sexually explicit jokes
tolerance of sexual harassment
publicly scrutinising a sexually abused person's dress, mental state, motives, and history
defining 'manhood' as dominant and sexually aggressive
defining 'womanhood' as submissive and sexually passive
pressure on men to 'score'
pressure on women to not appear 'cold'
assuming only promiscuous women get raped
assuming a woman is 'up for it' by the way she dresses
assuming that men don’t get raped or that only 'weak' men get raped
refusing to take rape accusations seriously
teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
What should I do if I have been sexually abused?
Sometimes it will feel like the abuse was somehow your fault; that maybe you were partly to blame. Sexual abuse is never the fault - in any way - of the person who was abused. However, your feelings of guilt can prevent you from getting the help you need. Even if you feel you have recovered from the crisis of the abuse, it can still have significant and long-term effects on your well-being.
It's important to get help for yourself as soon as possible, so that you can address any serious psychological and emotional difficulties that can occur.
Dealing with sexual abuse
New Zealand Party Is Faulted After Sex-Assault Claims at Youth Camp (New York Times Article)
Of all the rape and sexual assault incidents in New Zealand every year, 90% are committed by someone known to the victim.
Between January 2016 - January 2017, 5865 people were the victim of rape or sexual assault in New Zealand. Most of the victims were women aged 15-19.
Of the 5865 assaults, 952 of the offenders were known to the victim, and 252 were strangers.
A further 4446 of the offenders were not specified.
77.9% (4567) of the victims were female. 10.9% (639) of the victims were male. It is estimated only 9% of incidents of rape and sexual abuse are ever reported to NZ Police.
Research shows that: 1 in 5 women (20%) will experience sexual assault as an adult. Close to 1 in 7 (15%) of males will experience sexual abuse at some time in their lives.
In New Zealand, up to 1 in 3 girls will be subject to an unwanted sexual experience by the age of 16. The majority of these would be considered serious, with over 70% involving genital contact.
1. Sexual assault is about people needing sex. They just get too drunk, carried away or lose control.
Sexual assault is a form of sexualised violence. It’s an act of violence expressed in a sexual way. Like many other crimes, it’s about power and control; the offender forcing their desires over the survivor’s ability to give consent.
2. If the survivor didn’t want it to happen, they would have said something or fought back. It must have been consensual as there are no bruises or other kinds of physical evidence of assault.
Many people have heard of the 'fight or flight' response as being the typical response to danger, but it is actually fight, flight, or FREEZE. The freeze response is a documented medical condition that happens in extremely fearful situations; it is uncontrollable and not something a person decides to do. Research shows that around 50% of survivors experience the freeze response during an assault. This does not mean the sex is consensual.
3. Rape rarely happens between people who know each other.
This is completely untrue. In New Zealand, 90% of sexual assaults are inflicted by a perpetrator personally known to the survivor.
4. Women invite rape by dressing provocatively and flirting with other guys.
Victim-blaming is a very common lie. It's also a very dangerous and misleading practice. It is NEVER the survivor's fault that they were raped or sexually assaulted. The blame always lies 100% with the abuser.
It is common for people to blame the survivor for the attack if at the time the survivor:
had taken drugs
dressed in sexy clothes
were perceived as being promiscuous or “slutty”
chose to walk alone
Even if the survivor did any of the things above, they were not 'asking for it' and they were not to blame. It is the perpetrator who is actively making the decision to sexually abuse the survivor when they have not given consent or were incapable of giving consent. It is entirely the perpetrator who is at fault.
5. Sexual abuse only happens to particular women and girls.
Anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a type of violence imposed by one person who wants to dominate another person. It's about power - not lust.
Because of this, many survivors are not the 'type' of people some would typically expect to be abused. This includes people like children, the disabled and the elderly.
Males and females of any age, physical appearance, sexual orientation, social class, race and marital status, can be - and are - survivors of sexual abuse.
6. Men cannot be sexually assaulted.
This is staggeringly UNTRUE. In New Zealand, it's estimated that close to 1 in 7 males (boys and men) will have experienced sexual abuse by the time they reach adulthood.
There continues to be a significant resistance in New Zealand to recognising men as survivors of sexual abuse. The stereotypes of 'men can’t be forced to have sex' and 'men want sex all the time' abound and are abjectly untrue.
7. It's not rape or sexual assault if the survivor willingly went to the perpetrator's house or bedroom.
It is never too late to withhold your consent to any sexual act. You always have the right to control what happens to your own body, at any time.
Going to someone’s house or bedroom does not take away your right to say 'no' to any sexual activity you do not want to be involved in.
8. It's not rape if you are married, dating or in a relationship.
Although perpetrators often use this as an excuse to say the abusive act was actually consensual, this is completely untrue.
Regardless of your relationship status, you are the only person who has the right to say what happens to your body. 'No' means no. This is also explicitly recognised under New Zealand law.
9. If someone was sexually abused, they wouldn't talk to the person who abused them the next day.
There are many reasons why a survivor might maintain a relationship with someone who has abused them. The survivor might feel insecure or threatened if they tried to terminate the relationship. These are complex emotions, and they run deep.
The survivor might be very disorientated and struggling to process the abusive event.
Sexual abuse is extremely traumatic and a common way for a survivor to deal with the event is to simply try to forget it, or pretend it never happened.
Survivors often feel the need socially to keep up an appearance of 'everything's just fine'. We all respond to traumatic events in our own distinct ways. How a survivor reacts to an event of sexual abuse should in no way be used by others, or themselves, to interpret whether the abusive event actually took place or not.
10. There is no way this person would sexually abuse anyone. They are too nice / respected / religious / friendly / likeable / married / family-orientated / good-looking, etc.
People with all the above traits commit violence too, and that's what every act of sexual abuse is. Sexual abusers come from every walk of life.
There is no A-Type personality or particular type of person who commits sexual abuse. Outwardly to friends, family and colleagues, a sexual abuser may seem to be the very last person who would commit such an act.
11. They had sex with that person before, so it can't be sexual abuse.
Yes it can. Consent cannot be presumed because of a survivor's previous or existing sexual relationship with their abuser.
Even in the context of a relationship, mutual consent must be apparent every time sexual activity is engaged in. The person initiating sexual activity is responsible for obtaining the consent of the other person for that activity. Either person - at any time - can withdraw consent.
Consent is a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity. It can only be given voluntarily and never taken by force or coercion.
Once consent to sexual activity is withdrawn, that must be the final word on the matter. Any further actions can constitute sexual abuse.
12. When someone says 'No' to sex, you should just keep wearing them down until they say 'Yes'.
If a person has to pressure someone into having sex, it means the sex is non-consensual. A person can withdraw their consent to sex AT ANY TIME.
If someone says 'no' or seems unsure, the only correct response is to back-off. Completely.
13. It's not sexual abuse if the person didn't say 'No'.
Okay, so this is a little similar to the answer we gave in busting Myth # 2, except to say this.
Instead of thinking 'no means no', we really need to think in terms of 'only yes means yes'. Anything less than 'yes' is not consent. For the person wanting to engage in sexual activity, unless the person they are with says 'yes' or openly encourages them to continue, the sexually activity must stop.
Actually saying 'no' is the clearest way to inform the other person that you don't want to go further. There are many other things you can say though:
'This isn't what I want'
'I'm not ready for this'
'I'm not sure about this'
'This is making me uncomfortable'
'Can we slow this down?'
If you say these things and the other person continues to persist in trying to engage you in sexual activity, then that person is committing sexual abuse.
14. Most sexual assaults take place in dark, isolated public places.
Not true. sexual assault is not usually committed by opportunistic strangers. Remember, 90% of sexual abuse cases in New Zealand are committed by someone the survivor is acquainted with.
Most cases of sexual abuse are committed in either the survivor's or the perpetrator's own home.
15. When a woman says 'No', she's actually open to 'Yes'.
This is very similar to what we busted in Myth # 12.
In what world does 'No' mean 'Yes'?
When the person you are with says 'no', they aren't doing it to preserve their modesty. That person you're with? They DO NOT have a rape fantasy and they don't want to be dominated. If for any reason, that is your way of thinking, then your way of thinking is very wrong. The answer is NOT open to interpretation. 'No' does not mean 'yes'. Ever.
16. People who have been sexually assaulted will be hysterical and all over the place.
As we said when we busted Myths # 2 & 13, we are all very complex creatures. We all respond to trauma in our own unique ways. No matter what your preconceptions are of how someone who has been sexually abused should react, leave them at the door. They aren't worth anything.
17. Getting help is expensive for survivors of sexual abuse.
Not true. Here at HELP, our services are either free or very low cost.
Either way, for any type of paid-for sexual abuse counselling, you may be eligible for ACC financial assistance. If you are a Community Services Card holder, on any kind of WINZ benefit, or receive a low income, you may be eligible for WINZ assistance for paid counselling sessions too.
Contact us, we can talk it through with you.