“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
— Winston Churchill
The Empathetic Listener…
Maintaining a healthy professional relationship with a survivor of childhood sexual abuse can be challenging for both the colleague and the survivor themselves. If the survivor has chosen to share this information with you then they have put you in a very special category. It is important to understand that the survivor has confided in you because they trust you and they feel safe with you. Keep in mind that the survivor hasn’t shared this information with you so that you can “fix it”. The best thing that you can do for a survivor of sexual abuse is “be there”. The path to recovery begins when the survivor shares their story with another person. To the survivor, the memories that they hold inside are like toxic projectiles that shred their very being. If the survivor has a person who is going to listen empathetically, they can far more easily begin their journey on the path to recovery. As a work colleague, it is appropriate for you to let the survivor know that you are there to support them and it is also a good idea to set personal boundaries. Remember, you are not the survivor’s therapist; you are their trusted confidant. Make sure that you are reassuring the survivor that they will make it through this trauma. They have already endured the perpetration on their own privately, and now they have the support from you to help them find the peace and happiness that come with recovery.
Being a trusted colleague of a survivor can also take its toll on you. Sometimes details and experiences that a survivor reveals can be traumatic to the listener. Make sure that as a listener you are taking the proper steps to maintain your own mental well being. Utilize employer assistance programs and other benefits available to help you process and manage the information you have just received.