HELP For Youth

It can be hard to know if what has happened to you is a crime, especially if someone told you that it was ok, or that you “wanted it”. They may have coerced you into doing something you didn’t really want to, or told you that it’s your fault.

What can I do?
If you have been hurt sexually, you might be experiencing some overwhelming feelings, including feeling confused and scared.

How do you know what to do now?  Or where to turn for support?
Thankfully, there is a service that specialises in providing information and support to people who have been through this - Southland Help is based in Invercargill, and can help you figure out what support would be good for to help with your recovery. HELP has an agreement with the local police and specialist doctors, which says that they must contact us every time someone tells them about being sexually assaulted, so you can expect us to be there.  As specially trained staff, we can explain what options you have and support you through whatever decisions you make.

Who do I call?
HELP provides services from 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday to support those dealing with any of the impacts of sexual assault. You can contact us to access this service at anytime - via this website, text to our cellphone - 0273162079, or ring our landline 03 218 4357. You might just want to ask some questions, without saying who you are, that's okay. We understand everyone situation is unique, but we may have some information and advice that will help you in knowing what to do next.

What do I do next?
You have the right to talk to the Police, but you don’t have to. This can be scary if you’ve never spoken to them before, or only did so when you were in trouble.  We can help you with this though, and answer any questions you have. A medical examination is recommended as soon after the assault as possible. There are two different kinds and we can help you access this service.
A court case will not necessarily result from reporting to the Police, but in the case that it does, we can support you through the process.
If you are under the age of 17 and talk to the Police or a support service about what has happened, it is likely that Child, Youth & Family Services (CYF) will be contacted. A social worker will probably contact you and their role is to make sure you are living in a safe environment. People are often afraid that they will be removed from their home if CYF becomes involved.  CYF does their best to ensure this happens only when absolutely necessary, and if you are feeling unsafe in your home it is likely that the person who is making you feel unsafe is removed rather than you.

Telling Other People
It can be really difficult dealing with all the effects of sexual abuse. It can affect every area of your life, sometimes in ways that are surprising. Your safety and self care is important.  Taking good care of yourself right now can help ease some of the effects that you are experiencing. 
Often it can be helpful to have someone you can talk to about these things. Specialist counsellors understand the effects sexual abuse can have on a person’s life and are able to support you through the process of moving past what happened. 
You may want to talk about stuff that happened a long time ago, or stuff that happened more recently – either is OK. You can make a request to see a counsellor by contact (contact tab linked on website)
Many young people worry that their story will be told to other people, but at Southland HELP, your information is confidential. If you are not at risk of harm, what you say to your counsellor doesn’t get shared with anyone else – not friends, or family, teachers or Police, without your permission.

You're not Crazy
There are lots of things you may feel or notice after a sexual assault. You might even have times when you feel like you’re going crazy – you’re not!  What you are experiencing are normal reactions to a ‘crazy-making’ situation.
Everyone is unique, and reacts in their own way. There’s no “one way” and no “right way” to react but it can feel quite confusing at times. Reactions to sexual assault or sexual abuse are referred to as “symptoms” and are often automatic (meaning we don’t necessarily think about them before we do them).  Learn more about some of the common impacts of sexual abuse, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Common Impacts
Everyone reacts and copes with their experiences differently and there is no right or wrong way. We’re all different and we all experience different symptoms and reactions following a sexual assault.  It may, however, be helpful to know that your responses are common and normal for your situation.
How sexual abuse or assault affects you depends on a lot of things including, whether you were threatened with violence, whether you knew the offender, what the assault involved, what happened when you told, and what help you got at the time. People who otherwise have a good life with lots of social support, are more likely to be able to recover relatively well from the effects of abuse and trauma. Those who have other chronic stressors might find it more difficult.
*Here’s a list of some of the more common impacts survivors may experience:
*Immediate Symptoms
Shock, numbness, confusion, shaking, feeling panicky and rapid breathing, nausea, being on alert all the time, anger, changes in sleeping/nightmares, not feeling safe, thinking it’s going to happen again, changes in appetite, feeling out of control, feeling dirty, disbelief, self-blame, guilt, physical injuries or medical worries, feeling disconnected (like you’re in a dream, like it’s not really happening to you), flashbacks, difficulty concentrating.
*Longer Term Symptoms
Being on “alert” all the time, loss of trust in people, flashbacks, moodiness and depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or plans, self-harming, not feeling safe, finding it hard to be in relationships, sleeping difficulties (being scared to sleep, nightmares, or sleeping too much), guilt, shame, finding it hard to be on your own and feel o.k., anger, low self-esteem, using too many drugs and/or too much alcohol to help you feel better, taking risks you didn’t use to e.g. wagging school,  swearing at the teacher, fighting, having sex more frequently  than usual  but not really knowing why or feeling good about yourself afterwards, not wanting any intimacy, feeling like your anger is “out of control”. 
*Common Impacts for Children
Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse are not always easy to identify and all children vary in their reactions. Although there may be some obvious physical effects, the less obvious psychological ones are also worth understanding. An addition to the effects and responses listed above; there are others that specifically relate to children.  They include:
Children’s self-esteem is undoubtedly affected by sexual abuse.  They can develop  a negative image of themselves and/or having low self-worth. Children who are sexually abused often blame themselves.  This belief is planted and encouraged by the offenders as it helps to ensure the victims don’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse.
Children who experience sexual abuse often lose their trust in adults and feel powerless. They frequently experience sadness, anger, feelings of isolation, problems with trusting people and difficulties in building or maintaining safe and healthy relationships. Children who experience sexual abuse may find it difficult to concentrate at school.  They can be anxious, depressed, hostile/self-destructive behaviours or may behave sexually inappropriate.
Another possible impact for children is that they may regress to a seemingly younger age that may bring about sleep problems, bed-wetting or clinginess.
*Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma is an identifiable experience that was so overwhelming or life threatening that it destroys trust or prevents trust from happening again in relationships.
Post Traumatic Stress or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a series of symptoms (related to the traumatic event) that are still being experienced for some time (months, years) after the threat has passed.
Some of these symptoms could include:
* Flashbacks (feeling like you are reliving the event again and again)
* Avoiding anything  or anyone that reminds you of what happened
* Sleep disturbances
* Frequent ‘zoning out’
* Difficulty concentrating
* Always being on alert (hypervigilance)
You do not have to figure out how to manage these responses, feelings or reactions on your own.  Southland HELP has trained professionals to support you and to help you understand what is happening.  Research shows that the sooner you get appropriate support for yourself, like seeing a specialist counsellor, the better your chances are of healing.  It is normal to feel scared or uncertain about counselling, so take time to find someone that you feel connected to and is experienced in the matter.

What If I’m a Guy?
Sexual abuse can be a really difficult subject to talk about – for guys too. While females are more often the victims of sexual abuse, there are lots of guys that it happens to as well.  Guys might be less likely to speak up about it and report it to the Police, because there are a number of ideas out there in society which can make it difficult for guys to get support. Ideas such as, “it’s sex, you’re meant to like it!”, “I must be gay if this happened”, “Women can’t abuse men”, “Guys are meant to be tough”, and “You should have been able to fight them off”.  These are really powerful ideas, and can be hard to deal with.
If you’re a guy who is a survivor of sexual abuse, you can get support.  You do not have to deal with this alone.  Southland HELP’s Crisis Support Services are available if you wish to report the incident to the Police or receive medical care.  You can contact them confidentially, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, on 03 218 4357.  They will also be able to help you find a counsellor you can talk to if you want.

Gr8mates
Gr8mates is a website designed by teens, for teens.  If you have a friend who has an unwanted sexual experience, Gr8mates can help you.  You’ll find tips on what to do, how to support your friend, and some other information that you might find useful.
www.gr8mates.org.nz - click this link to have a look!

HELP For Adults

If you’re an adult who has been sexually assaulted, knows someone who has been sexually assaulted, or you’re having thoughts of dangerous and harmful behaviour, you’re in the right place.

How We Can HELP
We offer a range of services and support to adult survivors of sexual abuse.
Counselling or therapy is a good first step and provides a safe environment for you to work through your experiences. It is important to go to a counsellor or therapist who is a specialist in the field and understand the dynamics and impacts of sexual abuse, especially one who is trained to do this work safely. You can access a counsellor through Southland Help, and we can give you options of more than one counsellor, until you find the best fit for you.
Southland Help provides a range of justice services to assist survivors who have reported sexual abuse and are about to enter the court process. Our justice services run separately to our counselling services and provided completely confidentiality and at no cost, like the rest of our services.

How To HELP Yourself
You may be able to identify some symptoms or effects that you are feeling right now.
While we believe that counselling is the best way to begin healing, there are some things that you can do yourself to lessen the impacts of the assault.
One of the things that can make it difficult to recover from sexual abuse or sexual assault, is that the world is full of things that remind us of those experiences so the wound keeps getting opened, but not in ways that help to clear it up. Figure out what it is that reminds you of those experiences and get them out of your life if you can. Read our list of safety and self care tips to get information on how to care for yourself.
If the person who hurt you is still in your neighbourhood or family, it can be difficult to avoid them. The ideal way to protect yourself in these situations is to fix the relationship between you and the perpetrator if that’s possible.  By this we don’t mean that you need to just “get over it” and forgive them, but a process like the specialist restorative justice programme, Project Restore, can help people to co-exist.

How To HELP Others

*Helping Children
If your child has disclosed some kind of abuse, or if you suspect it, we have a range of resources and advice for parents and caregivers that can help. Of course, the team at Southland HELP are always here, so if you have any other questions, need support or would like to talk the situation through with anyone, contact us.

*Helping Young People
If your teen tells you that they have been sexually abused, you are likely to experience a range of emotional responses. How you react though, will make a difference to their journey towards healing. Read up on what parents and caregivers can do following a teen’s disclosure of abuse.

*Helping Adult Partners, Friends, and Siblings
Being a partner or close friend to a survivor can be an important role. Supporting and respecting the survivor is important and can aid significantly in their healing, reminding them that they are both worthy and lovable. Sexual abuse is not only a sexual violation but an emotional violation as well i.e. it may impact on many different aspects the person’s life.
Wanting to help and being scared and/or angry are all understandable responses to discovering your partner or friend has been sexually abused. The best way to help and to reduce any of your own anxieties is to listen. If they don’t want to talk about it, do not push them.
Remember something terrible has happened to them, but this is not all that they are. Remember their strengths and that they are more than just this awful experience that they have been through. Recognise their need to feel empowered and talk with them about the things that can help or that may enable them to feel more in control again. Having control over who and when they tell things is an important aspect of control for many survivors.

Southland HELP has compiled a list of general ways to be supportive toward a survivor.  Read through them and get some ideas that may be useful in your situation.
If you’re angry, let them know that you are angry on their behalf, but its best to take the anger somewhere else.  They might be frightened of your anger, or frightened of what you might do with it. Try to normalise your own reactions and manage your feelings. You may want to increase your gym or exercise time, or talk to someone else who can handle it.
Remember: patience, support and education for yourself around the impacts of abuse will be helpful for you both.

Common Impacts of Sexual Abuse
Everyone reacts and copes with their experiences differently and there is no right or wrong way. We’re all different and we all experience different symptoms and reactions following a sexual assault. It may, however, be helpful to know that your responses are common and normal for your situation.
How sexual abuse or assault affects you depends on a lot of things including, whether youwere threatened with violence, whether you knew the offender, what the assault involved, what happened when you told, and what help you got at the time. People who otherwise have a good life with lots of social support, are more likely to be able to recover relatively well from the effects of abuse and trauma. Those who have other chronic stressors might find it more difficult.
*Here’s a list of some of the more common impacts survivors may experience:
*Immediate Symptoms
Shock, numbness, confusion, shaking, feeling panicky and rapid breathing, nausea, being on alert all the time, anger, changes in sleeping/nightmares, not feeling safe, thinking it’s going to happen again, changes in appetite, feeling out of control, feeling dirty, disbelief, selfblame, guilt, physical injuries or medical worries, feeling disconnected (like you’re in a dream, like it’s not really happening to you), flashbacks, difficulty concentrating.
*Longer Term Symptoms
Being on “alert” all the time, loss of trust in people, flashbacks, moodiness and depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or plans, self-harming, not feeling safe, finding it hard to be in relationships, sleeping difficulties (being scared to sleep, nightmares, or sleeping too much), guilt, shame, finding it hard to be on your own and feel o.k., anger, low self-esteem, using too many drugs and/or too much alcohol to help you feel better, taking risks you didn’t use to e.g. wagging school, swearing at the teacher, fighting, having sex more frequently than usual but not really knowing why or feeling good about yourself afterwards, not wanting any intimacy, feeling like your anger is “out of control”.
*Common Impacts for Children
Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse are not always easy to identify and all children vary in their reactions. Although there may be some obvious physical effects, the less obvious psychological ones are also worth understanding. An addition to the effects and responses listed above; there are others that specifically relate to children. They include:
Children’s self-esteem is undoubtedly affected by sexual abuse. They can develop a negative image of themselves and/or having low self-worth. Children who are sexually abused often blame themselves. This belief is planted and encouraged by the offenders as it helps to ensure the victims don’t tell anyone about the sexual abuse.
Children who experience sexual abuse often lose their trust in adults and feel powerless. They frequently experience sadness, anger, feelings of isolation, problems with trusting people and difficulties in building or maintaining safe and healthy relationships,. Children who experience sexual abuse may find it difficult to concentrate at school. They can be anxious, depressed, hostile/self-destructive behaviours or may behave sexually inappropriate.
Another possible impact for children is that they may regress to a seemingly younger age that may bring about sleep problems, bed-wetting or clinginess.
*Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma is an identifiable experience that was so overwhelming or life threatening that it destroys trust or prevents trust from happening again in relationships.
Post Traumatic Stress or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a series of symptoms (related to the traumatic event) that are still being experienced for some time (months, years) after the threat has passed.
Some of these symptoms could include:
*Flashbacks (feeling like you are reliving the event again and again)
*Avoiding anything or anyone that reminds you of what happened
*Sleep disturbances
*Frequent ‘zoning out’
*Difficulty concentrating
*Always being on alert (hypervigilance)
You do not have to figure out how to manage these responses, feelings or reactions on your own. Southland HELP has trained professionals to support you and to help you understand what is happening. Research shows that the sooner you get appropriate support for yourself, like seeing a specialist counsellor, the better your chances are of healing. It is normal to feel scared or uncertain about counselling, so take time to find someone that you feel connected to and is experienced in the matter.

Please click on the following link: to open and download the above information in a PDF document.
Common Impacts of Sexual Abuse Document  pdf_icon

HELP For Parents And Caregivers

Children are highly vulnerable to dangers due to their innocent and trusting natures and youth are vulnerable due to their growing independence and decreased supervision. It’s important as parents and caregivers that we do everything we can to keep them safe.
While there are some great programmes available in the community that provide first steps for your children, their ultimate safety remains largely in your hands. It’s up to you to keep your children safe.

Minimising Risk
Learn how to minimise risk in your child’s life as much as possible.
*Maintain clear rules about boundaries.
This will help to reduce the chance that your child could be confused if someone touches them inappropriately. Maintain age-appropriate privacy and respect the child’s control of their own body (ie: tickling stops when they say so.)
*Take care who you let in your child’s life.
Help your child develop good relationships with other adults and don’t leave your child alone with people who do not have a good and appropriate relationship with them. Know who your child spends time with and be watchful when there are new people in the house like boarders, babysitters or a newly formed blended family.
Formal childcare settings provide protection from abuse through police checks, staff training and policies and procedures to promote safe environments. No such protections exist with informal childcare arrangements, so it is up to you to put in place some basic precautions. Here are some things to think about…
*Babysitting It is estimated that half of all sexual offending is done by teenagers and both boys and girls abuse. While babysitting time provides a prime opportunity, this doesn’t mean that you can never go out and trust your child with one. Ask for references and spend some time watching the sitter interact with your child before you leave. Allowing them to bring other young people into your home while you are out increases the risks also.
If it is family members caring for your children, communicate your family touching and privacy rules and ask your child how they felt being cared for, listening well to what they tell you. If your family member has a partner or friend with them that you’re not familiar with, make it clear that you expect them (the family member) to care for your child and not leave them alone with the other person.
*Sleepovers Sleepovers are safest when your child can bath, toilet and dress themselves and ideally should be restricted to people you know best prior to this time. If your child is sleeping over somewhere, check out where they will be sleeping, who else will be there and what level of supervision they will have. Check that your child really does want to sleepover and let them know that they can phone you at any time, even in the middle of the night, if they are worried about anything. Share your family privacy and touching rules with anyone else who will be caring for your child.
*Take extra care when blending families. Bringing two families together should (and can be) a happy time, but there is also the potential for harm to children or young people, who face a higher risk of being sexually abused in these family situations as more people have access to them. A parent or sibling forms an attachment with a child in their care from birth that usually protects against sexual abuse, but the same is not always true for step-parents or siblings.
Some form of pain or loss, from a break-up or death of a parent, often follows into a blended family, making people vulnerable to abuse. Children can feel less special or have no sense of belonging, especially if they don’t live there full-time; this can cause them to act out sexually towards other children, or be acted out upon.
In the emotional intimacy that adults feel for each other when forming a new family unit, it can be confusing for children as there’s an expectation to feel close to someone that they have no real connection with yet. Allow your child time and space to get to know your new partner and their children. Encourage fun together, with appropriate boundaries.
When you are dating someone new, spend some time with their family and friends and find out what went wrong in their previous relationship. Consider how they get on with their own kids, or other children in general. Listen to how your child feels about your new partner. Make sure all children feel welcome, with a sense of belonging and equal opportunities and keep having one on one time with your children, so they know their relationship with you is still close and that they can rely on you and voice any worries.
Lastly, be open and explicit about privacy and touching rules, because you can’t expect them to have just naturally evolved out of a family culture in the case of a blended family. Things like who can be in the room when someone is in the bath should be discussed so that everyone knows how to be with each other. These should also be communicated to all others who might be in the home. Rules will likely need to be kept quite tight for a while, until trust and intimacy build.

Providing A Safe Enviornment
Providing a safe place for your children is key to prevention. Sexual abuse (and abusers themselves) come in different shapes and forms. Understanding the nature of the problem is the first step to preventing it. Simply put, sexual abuse occurs when a person uses a child for their sexual purposes or pleasure; usually that person will be older or stronger and the abuse may involve touch or exposure to sexual talk, pictures or actions. While once thought to be rare, the statistics surrounding this kind of abuse are staggering and it can happen to children from all kinds of families, cultures and socio-economic groups.
*Understanding Abusers and the Abuse
Just like anyone can be abused, the abuse can also be done by anyone – adult, teenager, child, male, female, family, friend or stranger. Children are typically most at risk from those people who have access to them and who they trust, which is quite a contrast to the ‘stranger danger’ belief of who they should be most wary of. While there are cases where strangers commit sexually abusive behaviour, more often than not, the offender is known to the survivor and in a position of trust.
Some abusers have had similar problems in their childhood, or they may have trouble relating to adults and so spend a lot of time with children; this is not always the profile though. You cannot tell by looking at someone that they have sexually abused others; they do not look or dress in a certain way. Sexual offenders come from various ethnic, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.
Typically abusers begin by being friendly and inviting trust before they move on to creating a ‘special bond’ with a particular child so that they will willingly be alone with them. The next move is often the violation of a small boundary, like inappropriate touch, which gradually increases if the child passes the test of not running off to tell. While we, as adults, know it is never the child’s fault, they don’t understand this yet and may believe they are to blame. Abusers of children are also masters of covering it up and many no longer believe they are even doing anything wrong.
*Why It Can Be Hard to See Sexual Abuse
Human nature means that it’s natural to not want to think harmful things happen to us, or our families. When a child withdraws or becomes unhappy, sexual abuse is often not high on our list of reasons, despite the fact that it deserves to be. It’s also, sadly, a myth that as parents we would ‘just know’.
We often fall into the trap of expecting the signs to be as outrageous as we believe the act to be, but most children keep their pain inside and react not on a scale that would usually indicate something seriously wrong. There are many reasons why children don’t tell, including loyalty to the perpetrator, obedience, fear of not being believed, confusion or selfblame, or sometimes because of communication difficulties arising from children just not having the words to articulate their distress or what was done to them. This is when the distressed behaviour arises in other forms.
*What to Look Out For
Unfortunately, signs of abuse are not always easy to see and can often be attributed to other problems. Few children will have direct physical impacts and still fewer may develop prematurely sexualised behaviour, so most indicators are expressions of the emotional harm that has been caused. No one reaction means that a child has been sexually abused, but it may mean that something distressing has happened that needs to be explored.
Emotional reactions may include changes in mood and the way they react to people, a reluctance to undress, increased anxiety, sleeping problems like nightmares or bed wetting, regression to a younger age, self-harming, persistent illness or indicating that they have worries or a secret which worries them.
Sexualisation signs may include sexual behaviour and language with other children, adults or toys that seem out of the ordinary. They may also have inappropriate sexual knowledge.
Physical reactions may include unexplained injuries or pain around the genitals, anus or mouth or sexually transmitted infections.
*Have a Great Relationship With Your Child
While this is important for many reasons, and doubtless is something that you are aspiring to anyway, there are a number of practical reasons why this can make a real difference in terms of sexual abuse:
It reduces the likelihood that someone will choose your child to abuse. They’re less likely to be approached if they don’t need a ‘new friend’ and more likely to tell and be believed. Simply put, children who feel emotionally secure and well loved are less vulnerable.
You’re more likely to be able to stop any abuse early because your child is more likely to tell you if they feel scared or uncomfortable and you will likely be more attuned to their feelings and changes in behaviour.
Your child will be more resilient if they do have a bad experience. Good relationships make them stronger so they can cope better when things go wrong.
Children need warm; loving relationships with adults so they feel that they are loved and respected and that you will be available to them when they need you. Having fun together, being affectionate and consistently emotionally responsive builds good relationships and developing a family culture of listening and talking about thoughts and feelings is a great platform.

Children’s Sexual Behaviour:  What’s Normal And What’s Not?
Most behaviour is normal, but sometimes it isn’t. Learn what to do.

Unsafe Adult Behaviour
Learn to identify questionable behaviour in adults that spend time with your children.
*Keeping an Eye Out: Unsafe Adult Behaviour
Most adults behave safely around children, respecting their wishes and privacy and being open to comments if they do anything to cause concern. However, sometimes adult behaviour around children is troubling and unsafe.
Some of the signs, or things to be watchful of, include adults or teenagers who:
* Insist on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child doesn’t want the attention or affection.
* Ask lots of questions about the sexuality of a child or teenager, ie: repeatedly talking about their developing body or intruding on normal teenage dating.
* Create opportunities to get time alone with little opportunity for any other person to intrude or intervene.
* Spend most of their time with children or young teens and seem to have no interest in being with people of their own age.
* Repeatedly intrude on a child’s privacy when it’s not necessary.
* Make you feel ‘shut out’ as a parent, or isolate your child.
* Talk about inappropriate sexual behaviour in front of children or call them sexual names, even if done in a joking manner.
* Regularly offer to babysit lots of children for free or take them alone on overnight outings or holidays.
* Buy children or teens expensive gifts, or give them money for no apparent reason.
* Allow children or teenagers to consistently get away with inappropriate behaviours.
* Seem to demonstrate excessive control over a child, like not letting them make their own decisions or be involved in activities outside the home.
* Visit children’s chat rooms online or download child pornography.
* Want their adult partner to dress like a child or role-play as one during sex.
If you know someone who behaves in any of these ways, they might have a problem. These signs could be serious, so if you see them, talk to someone that can help.

What If A Child Tells You?
Find out what to say and what action to take if a child tells you they have been abused.
What you do when a child discloses sexual abuse is crucial and will impact on their later recovery from the whole experience. Children need to feel listened to, believed, cared about and safe after they have told.
If a child chooses you as their ‘safe person’ and discloses abuse, the following guidelines might help:
* Remain calm – trust that you will be able to get yourself and the child the help you need to handle the situation.
* Take responsibility for making sure the child is now kept safe. This should be your priority and if you need help, call the Police or Child, Youth and Family.
* Stay emotionally connected to the child and their emotional needs, regardless of your own feelings at that moment. They may need more time cuddling or staying physically close to Mum to feel safe.
* Keep your reactions to yourself, because if you show anger, they might think that is directed at them and not tell you again.
* Show your love concern and support.
* Listen to what the child is telling you and take it seriously. Believe them and accept what they tell you. Say “Thank you for telling me, I believe you.”
* Don’t interrogate or question too much about what has happened, even though your parental instincts will mean you want to know every detail. Your child might withdraw in the face of such questioning. It is best to leave it for a trained expert to question them at a later time.
* Praise the child for their bravery in telling and reassure them that it is not their fault and that you will help them to make it better now.
* Help the child understand that there are people that you will need to talk to, in order to get help.
Children need to have what they say taken seriously and your reaction will have a big impact on their journey from this point. It is your role to take the responsibility for making sure they are safe now and keeping them safe. They may also need access to professional help if they have behavioural problems like high anxiety or distress.
Sometimes a child might offer what seems like a disclosure of abuse, but you’re not sure. If you need to ask more questions, make them as few and open-ended as you can and continue to express care and concern, as often children are driven by what they think an adult wants them to say.
Talk to your child in ways that preserve their self-worth. One of the best things that you can do for your child is to let them know that they are understood. Try to reflect a child’s feelings without criticism and show you understand these feelings. When children feel understood, hurt and distress start to disappear and more positive communication will begin. Disagreeing with your child’s feelings or perceptions of themselves may mean they choose not to share with you anymore.
Your child needs to have their life be as normal as possible, with the same routines, going to school and partaking in their usual daily activities. Try not to make too many changes or new rules and avoid stepping back from your normal parenting style as much as you can. You may understand why your child is acting the way they are, but as well as showing compassion, you can let them know when their behaviour is unacceptable and still instigate the appropriate consequence if they continue to cross the line.
Children may need extra emotional needs attended to – they might need more time cuddling with Mum, or need certain special comforts again. Continue to show your child your love and support and discuss ways to keep safe with other people with your children. Give your child ongoing opportunities to tell you if things are not ok, but also be respectful of their space and pace.
This might all seem like a big ask when you’re still trying to get your head around it, so take time to get yourself calm if you need to, seek professional help for both yourself and the child. If it’s too difficult to talk with friends and family, contact Southland Help for support.

What If A Teenager Tells You?
How you respond can make a huge difference in a teenage survivor’s recovery. Learn what’s helpful, and what’s not.
It is common for survivors of sexual abuse to not want to talk to their parents or caregivers about it, for fear of their reaction, not wanting to upset the family, or a desire to ‘forget’ about it’ and return to normality. And as a caregiver, it is an equally common reaction for you to want to know the details of what has happened to your daughter.
Hearing your daughter has been sexually abused can bring forward a range of responses: shock, anger, confusion, denial, fear and powerlessness. As a parent though, you have a significant influence on your daughter’s journey as your reactions and management of the post-disclosure period will have a huge impact. She may watch how you respond and change the way she is coping, depending on how you react.
Part of your role is to navigate your family through this period and cushion the impact of the experience. However, no matter how well you take up this role, there’s no guarantee of how smooth the path ahead may be. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Although we suggest you process your personal responses away from your daughter, totally hiding your feelings and vulnerabilities may give the impression that what’s happened is not important or even that you don’t care.
Your first response (and an understandable parental reaction) is that you will want to know the whole story and all the details of what has happened, but your daughter may not be ready or able to talk with you yet. She may even want to protect you from the details, or feel she is to blame. Be careful not to pressure her, even if you feel there are information blanks, as it may cause a retreat or closing down, or even a retraction of the disclosure.
Try not to make too many changes or new rules – she probably wants life to go back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. Allow her to go places she would have been allowed to go before, as long as she is safe. Sometimes the fear of doing more harm makes parents step back from their normal parenting style, but young people still need you to protect and guide them, to keep the boundaries. You can be understanding of why she is acting the way she is, but she will still need to know when her behaviour is unacceptable and incur an appropriate consequence.

If You Suspect Abuse
Always trust your instincts. Here’s what to do if you suspect abuse.
Of all the indicators of abuse, a sexually transmitted infection is the only one delivering surety. In the presence of any other indicators, parents need to do what they would normally do when their child is behaving differently or is upset: talk to them, be patient, let them know that it is good to share feelings because parents can help to fix problems, and let them know you love them and care about how they are feeling. A child may disclose with this questioning, or it could come seemingly out of the blue, as they tell you about someone touching them in a way they didn’t like, or asking them to keep a secret about a new game.
If you think a child is at risk of being abused today – call 111 and speak to the Police.
If you think a child has been abused, but is not at risk today – call Child, Youth and Family on 0508 326 459.
If you don’t know what to do, or want support or counselling for a child or family, contact Southland HELP.

How We Can HELP Your Child
Learn what help there is for children who have been abused.
Child & Family Therapy
Southland HELP’s Child and Family Therapy service integrates the child’s healing process through psychotherapy and counselling, with caregiver support and counselling aimed at safeguarding the long term safety of the child. We can provide counselling to children who have been abused, alongside their non-offending caregivers, to help children recover from the experience of abuse and to assist families in developing an emotionally safe environment to aid your child’s recovery and prevent any further abuse.

How We Can HELP Your Teenager
Find out about our Youth Therapy service. It might be exactly what your teen needs.
Some young women and men who have experienced sexual abuse feel overwhelmed at the prospect of finding and asking someone for ongoing help and support, especially when it is such a personal topic. Survivors don’t have to cope with their experiences and feelings on their own – Southland HELP is here to support you through everything. Counselling offers a safe space for survivors to explore and understand their experiences, or other things they are wondering about, with a trained professional who is dedicated to working with survivors.
The therapy experience is very different for everyone and each person has their own way of being in the world and understanding things. Again, there is no “one way” or “right way”. Each counsellor’s style is unique and they will spend time with each survivor to figure out together how the counselling relationship might look. Southland HELP’s counsellors have special training and skills to offer and what is said to them is confidential, unless someone is at risk of harm.
Sometimes people are nervous about starting counselling and worry that they will have to tell their counsellor all about the sexual assault or sexual abuse straight away. They don’t. It’s important that survivors feel safe and comfortable to talk about what happened in their own time and in their own way. Survivors can choose how much they say or don’t say and a counsellor will support them in this – the survivor’s voice is the most important!
Some clients require relatively brief interventions and may have only one or two, or up to 10, sessions with us. Others require longer term therapy. It depends on what survivors feel they need. They can always have a few sessions and then come back at a later time too.
A website that might be of use is: www.sexnrespect.co.nz

Prevention For All Ages
Learn more about programmes and resources available to proactively prevent sexual abuse.

Cyberspace Prevention
While the internet and mobile phones are extremely useful tools, they can be used for anti-social or even criminal behaviour and have changed the ways that offenders access the people they abuse.
It’s a common fear of young people that the reporting of any inappropriate activity online will automatically lead to confiscation of phone or internet access, so they often don’t tell.
Helping children develop the critical thinking skills to question whoever and whatever they encounter online though, will help them to consider their actions before they share anything.

*NetSafe
NetSafe actively works to keep Kiwi kids safer in Cyberspace. You can send a query to the NetSafe team if you have concerns about what your child is viewing. You can also contact your child’s school to see if the Ministry of Education approved NetSafe Kit for Schools is in use.

*Hector’s World
Hector’s World is an animated website for parents and teachers to help children learn about safe online practices. The site features seven animated episodes featuring Hector the dolphin and his friends, that are accessible to kids, as well as a range of strategies and advice for parents.

Please click on the following link: to open and download the above information in a PDF document.
Parents and Caregivers Document  pdf_icon

HELP For Friends And Family

Being Supportive
The importance of family members, friends and partners for a survivor cannot be overstated. Women, men, young people and children who have good support heal more quickly if they are able to let those who care about them know what they need. Your role is an important one and while there are different ways to deal with an incident or crisis, here is our advice for doing so, as constructively and positively as possible…

How To Be Supportive
Acknowledge the experience by talking with the survivor. Offer them support and leave your views, questions and judgements to one side.
Be Supportive and show them you are supporting them through your actions and behaviours. Tell them you are there for them and will support them through their emotional responses. Ask them what they need and what they would like you to do next – it’s important, where possible, that the survivor has some sense of control and contributes to the decisions.
Be patient and an effective listener. Allow them to express them feelings. Do not pressure them into talking. It is a big shock when you have been sexually assaulted and it may take some time for them to begin making sense of the experience. They may not be able to talk with you, or give you all the details you want and if this is the case, try not to take it personally. Instead, encourage them to talk with someone else or to seek counselling.
Ask them about them own reactions. They are the expert on themselves at this time. However, you do need to understand that they may not want to talk. They may or may not wish to be held or touched. Ask them and then be understanding and respectful of them either way.
Talk about Consider talking to them about such things as how they are sleeping, their feelings about being alone, their sense of safety and their ability to engage in day-to-day activities.
Avoid attempts to overprotect or distract them from the reality of the assault. This may cause them to deny the effects of it, internalise their distress or become disconnected from family and friends. Endeavour to provide and maintain a safe, healthy environment by being honest, open and consistent. This will build a foundation for them to experience support and care.
Let them know you care and are hurting with them; though don’t expect them to look after you. Try not to expose them to all of your emotional reactions and processes, but also do not completely hide your feelings and vulnerabilities from them. Get your needs for support met too.  Do not let yourself become a silent victim of rape.
* After being raped, many people feel totally exposed.  One reaction to this is the need to keep total control over who knows and who doesn’t.  Check with them before telling someone what has happened to them.  If they're not OK for anyone to know, find someone they are comfortable knowing, or talk with a counsellor.
* What they want might seem to change from one minute to the next – follow them as best you can and try not to take offence if they seems ungrateful for your help.  Most survivors are grateful as soon as they can be, but it might take a while if they’re really struggling inside.
Remember It’s normal to experience some severe emotions if someone you care about has shared with you that they have been raped. Your reactions may commonly include anger, disgust, blame, fear, guilt at not protecting them, and helplessness. You may cope better by knowing some of what they are experiencing and by knowing that their reactions to the assault are normal, so have a read of some of the other resources around this site.

You are encouraged also to recognise your own needs and feelings and make sure you also look after yourself, so you can support them too. Talk to someone about your feelings – either someone they are comfortable knowing or a counsellor.  Let them know that you are talking about it as this will keep them in touch that you too are having your own reactions to it. In time you may be able to talk together about the impact the assault has had on your relationship/friendship/family.

Always remember though, that ultimately this trauma has happened to them and they is likely to be experiencing more of the same shock, disbelief, sadness and anger that you are. You will be on a similar healing path, although at different places and in different phases most of the time.

Learn more about how to help others – whether they be children, youth or adults.

If you have questions about how to best support a survivor, please contact us.

Helpful Reading
Benedict, Helen (1994) How to Survive Sexual Assault: For Women, Men, Teenagers, their Friends, and Families. Columbia University Press, New York.
McEvoy, AW & Brooking, JB (1984) If She is Raped: A Book for Husbands, Fathers and Male Friends. Learning Publishing Inc, Florida.

HELP For Professionals

HELP offers counselling, resources, support, information and help to women, young adults and children who have experienced sexual assault. We provide a 24 hour crisis support service and confidential telephone line and advocacy services for survivors. Our counsellors are called out in the Auckland area to support anyone who has reported a sexual assault to the Police and are going through the associated procedures.

HELP provides a prevention programme for preschools and training for community groups. On a less visible level, we work to train practitioners, liaise with Police and engage in political activity with the goal of achieving societal change. HELP is working towards ‘de-stigmatisation’ and breaking the silence around sexual violence and we speak out frequently both in the media and at conferences, giving a voice to survivors.

We work alongside other agencies in a range of ways: