How Do I Help Someone Who Has Been Sexually Abused?

Cathy Foliente

March 28, 2019

Stories of sexual abuse are always a tragedy, and sexual assault is more common than many would care to admit.

She was only 4 when she was sexually assaulted by a family member . . .

The boys were 13 when a senior molested them . . .

John was a freshman when his male professor kissed him . . .

Maria was shocked when her colleague made sexual advances toward her . . .

The list goes on.

One of life’s worst tragedies is to be a victim of sexual assault. It can happen to anyone—young or old, male or female, poor or privileged.

When God created the world, His design was perfect and beautiful. And because humans were created in God’s image and likeness, we were created to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically whole. But sin entered the world and distorted God’s perfect creation. This brokenness includes sexual brokenness.

I wish time really healed all wounds. But looking back at the years I spent counseling people who went through it, the trauma of sexual abuse tends to persist even after decades.

When people experience sexual abuse, their emotions are damaged, their memory is stained, and their soul is wounded.

How do we help someone who has experienced sexual abuse? This is not a comprehensive list, and we know that a deeper process is involved for a person to experience complete healing. However, these things may help us comfort and encourage a person who has gone through sexual abuse.

1. Listen.

When people come to us for help, sometimes all we need to do is listen. When we give them our full attention, we make them feel how much we care.

Keep a calm spirit. Be careful not to react in anger or shock. Make the other person feel comfortable by intently listening and calmly processing the story.

While listening, assure them that you will handle their information with strict confidentiality.

2. Believe.

As you listen, make sure they know that you believe their story. If they feel that they are being judged or doubted, they might withdraw and stop sharing. Assure them that you believe them and that you’re willing to listen.

Avoid the following responses:

“Are you sure that really happened?”

“You were too young to remember what really happened.”

“It’s time to move on and leave the past behind.”

These responses are potentially damaging and could cause the person to withdraw. Instead, you may respond using these powerful phrases:

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

“You are not alone. I will be here to help you.”

“We will fight this together.”

“I will be praying for you.”

Encourage them to share every important detail and to regularly seek help in overcoming the effects of the abuse. Spiritual bondage thrives in darkness; it flourishes when it is kept a secret. But when the deeds of darkness are exposed, it results in freedom, healing, and restoration.

3. Empathize.

When you put yourself in the shoes of these people, it allows you to vicariously experience what they have gone through.

We can only imagine the impact of the abuse on a helpless child, the shock and confusion a person feels after being abused by a trusted family member or friend, or what it feels like for someone to experience anxiety, fear, depression, and uncontrollable anger.

Many victims testify that abuse over long periods of time feels like being trapped in a dark prison with no way out. They describe the emotional aftermath as a rollercoaster of shock, betrayal, anger, and bitterness. Some victims develop shame, self-hatred, insecurity, or a feeling of being dirty or unworthy.

Thoughts that race through their minds include:

“Is it my fault? What did I do wrong?”

“Why did I not fight harder? Why did I allow this to happen?”

“Why did God allow this to happen?”

“Can I still recover from this?”

“This shouldn’t be a big deal. Nobody has to know.”

4. Share the good news.

Let them know that no tragedy is beyond God’s reach. No human plight is beyond God’s knowledge. There is no cry for help that God cannot hear (Exodus 3:7–10). Assure them that God is our Advocate, and He will deliver justice and fight for His children. Let them know that God longs to save, heal, restore, and give back their freedom.

Jesus was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed (Isaiah 53:5). His sacrifice on the cross removes all shame, and His wounds grant healing to bodies and emotions.

They need to know about God’s extraordinary love—pure, unconditional, and perfect. Assure them that they are God’s beloved. Our identity as God’s children is sealed and final. No abuse can diminish who we are in God. Our value and identity rest in our Creator, not on our traumas.

Invite them to know and live in the light of Jesus. As we live in Him, the Spirit that raised Him from the dead will give us the power to be victorious over unforgiveness, insecurity, anger, shame, fear, and lust.

5. Stand with them.

Allow God to use you to establish them in the faith and in a life-giving community, and encourage them to seek pastoral care and professional help.

Years ago, a freshman confided to us that he was being sexually assaulted by his professor. We supported and helped him until the perpetrator was expelled from the university.

If the person going through the abuse happens to be living with the perpetrator, intervention should be sought through the appropriate authorities. Sometimes all the person needs while waiting for proper action to be taken is a friend who is standing by him or her without judgment. Wholeheartedly give the person emotional support in these crucial moments.

All in all, we can draw confidence from the truth that God brings wholeness to our brokenness, and He can turn any tragedy into a testimony of victory.


If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, and if you need help or someone to talk to about it, you may send us a message.

I invite you to pray this prayer:

Father, thank You for Your great love for us. I invite You to come deep into my soul to heal my wounds, fix my brokenness, and make me whole again. I put my faith in You, knowing that You are able to save and heal me and redeem my past.

Thank you for demonstrating Your love for us on the cross. Give me the strength to forgive, recognizing that forgiveness is a step closer to freedom.

You are the Lord and Savior of my life, and I will follow You for all my days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


The Author

Cathy Foliente

Cathy has been passionate about the next generation since she got saved in high school. At 15, she worked liked a campus missionary even as a high school student at St. Scholastica’s College. At 18, she helped plant a church in UP Los Baños (UPLB). She co-pastored campus churches in UPLB for 12 years and at the University Belt for 11 years. Now, as a mother of two teenagers, she is still committed to disciple and raise a generation of God-centered, strong leaders.