By Paula Dunn, Rosey Prevention and Development worker
At the Rape Crisis Centre we offer face to face support to non-abusive family and friends, females and males age 13 years+, a service that we have always offered but one which has been accessed more frequently in the last few years. The purpose of this support is to:
· Help the survivor’s partner or family member understand what their loved one might be going through
· To ensure that they are also getting appropriate support: the trauma of sexual violence effects everyone close to the survivor
· To appropriately challenge, if applicable any negative feelings they may have towards the survivor by helping them understand the effects of trauma
· Build up coping skills as a supporter
· Help to build their confidence as a supporter
· Help them to build up their own support network so they don’t feel solely responsible
It’s always difficult for partners or family members to know what to say, even if they have had a similar experience in their lives, which can sometimes be the case, how each individual survivor copes is very unique.
What’s useful for family members to remember is that two of the most important things for a survivor are to be believed and not to be blamed. If a partner or family member start from this point, understanding the rest will be much easier.
Family members have told us over the years that they themselves experience emotions such as guilt, blame, shame, isolation, fear and anger. These can be exactly the same emotions that a survivor feels, albeit in a different context, so we find it helpful to say to family members that if they think about how you would like to be supported through such emotions then just apply that to whoever they are supporting.
As a supporter their role is to encourage the survivor through the recovery process by just being there for them, talking things through and helping them to understand how they are feeling. We understand, and share with family members, that what is not always helpful is telling whoever you are supporting what to do, saying things like’ you just have to get on with it’, asking intrusive questions like graphic details of their experience or making all the decisions for them. Empowering a survivor is key to the success of their recovery so although it may be easier to ‘take over’, in the long run it may hinder the survivor’s recovery.
Last year we hosted our first Family Support Group. It was new territory for us; over the years we have facilitated many adult support groups as well as young women supports groups but a family support group was something new. However, it was something our service users had been asking for, for a long time.
The pilot group had eight participants with two male partners and one father as well as one sister, one grandmother and three mothers. The group ran for eight weeks and explored issues such as anger, relationships, blame and shame.
Our evaluation of the pilot found that there was definitely a demand for two separate groups as partners talked about needing space to speak about intimacy and relationships. The participants also felt that the group needed to be longer and it was decided that future groups would run for twelve weeks and that in 2016 we would aim to have both a Partner Support Group and a Family Support Group programme.
In the group we had a mixture of partners, mums, grandmothers and sisters, both female and male. We weren’t sure how it would work but we were very pleased that it proved really successful. It evaluated well and the feedback from all group participants was positive. Everyone felt much more confident by the end of the sessions and felt that they would be able to better support their loved ones. They also felt that overall, they had a better understanding of the effects of sexual violence.
With such a successful evaluation and a growing demand for family support, the Family Support Group will be a regular service offered here at Glasgow Rape Crisis.
It is an essential part of the recovery process for survivors to have a strong support network around them and we are delighted that we can offer that extra support either face to face or within a group setting for family members. We can see the direct positive effects it has on the survivor and their relationships with partners and other family members.