Supporting a Teen Survivor

Closeup of mom and daughter embracing on a park bench


How to Support a Teen Survivor of Sexual Assault or Abuse

“Mom, someone hurt me.” These are words no parent or caregiver ever wants to hear.  However, if a child confides in you about been raped or sexually abused, it’s a sign of trust and safety. Careful listening and ongoing support will set them on the path to healing, and Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is here to help.


Navigating the Initial Conversation 

First, take a moment to breathe. We know this is an incredibly difficult conversation to have. It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions, including anger, fear, sadness, confusion, and even numbness. Know that you are not alone. Support is just a call or text away.

While it may be difficult to keep your feelings at bay, an intense emotional reaction from a parent can be startling or overwhelming. To support your teen’s sense of safety and control, try your best to remain calm and composed. This will allow you to focus the conversation on your teen’s experience and emotions.

If you need to initiate the conversation, gently ask, “I understand something may have happened to you. Do you want to talk about it?” Let your child lead the conversation from there. Be attentive, listen without judgement, and don’t press for details. If they don’t want to talk, or need to take a break, let them know you will be there when they’re ready.

It is very common for survivors to blame themselves for their assault or abuse. Teens might have thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have gone to that party. This is all my fault,” or “My parents told me not to have a boyfriend and now look what happened.” This is a crucial moment to reiterate your love and support. 

Use these supportive phrases with your teen:

  • I believe you.
  • I’m here for you.
  • This was not your fault.
  • You didn’t do anything to deserve this.


Need to talk?

We’re here for you before, during and after your conversation. Call or text (216) 619-6192 for 24/7 support.


Moving Forward

Now that support has been established in your first conversation, continue to be present for your teen. Many young survivors worry that their experience will disrupt family life, so work together to develop a new sense of normalcy and a calm environment at home.

When you’re ready, you and your teen can reach out to access Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s comprehensive healing services. Learn about counseling and advocacyrequest an appointment online, or call (216) 619-6192 to discuss your options. If you decide to make that call, it’s best to let your child know so they feel involved and empowered by the choices being made.

While you wait for your first counseling appointment, spend time learning about the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is common among sexual violence survivors. This can help you understand what your teen is experiencing, and how to help. Visit the National Center for PTSD for resources and information.

Throughout the coming months, don’t forget to give your teen (and yourself) opportunities to focus on something other than the trauma. Plan fun one-on-one activities, like watching a funny movie, painting your nails, or making their favorite meal. 

Additional considerations as you move forward:

  • In an assault, control is taken away from a survivor. Help your child feel empowered by providing them with choices, both big and small. Your instinct may be to go into protection mode, but encouraging them to regain a sense of control will help them heal.
  • If your teen doesn’t want to talk about what happened, especially after counseling services have been established, don’t force them.
  • Make sure that all the adults who care for your child are on the same page and working together. This will contribute to your child’s sense of stability.


Don’t Neglect Yourself

Taking care of yourself is a critical part of taking care of your child. Prioritizing self-care will give you a strong foundation for providing support and help you model healthy practices for your teen.

Try the following self-care tips, or develop a plan that works for you:

  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Sustain healthy sleep, movement, and eating habits.
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy.
  • Shift yourself physically (by stepping outside, taking a hot shower, etc.) to shift your thoughts, especially in difficult moments.

For additional support, you can access specialized parent support sessions through Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. Even if your child decides not to pursue counseling services, help is available. Call (216) 619-6192 to learn more.


Remember, Healing is Possible

With the right kind of help, children and teens who experience sexual violence can recover and live happy, healthy lives. As a parent or caregiver, your support can play a pivotal role in their healing.

No matter where you are in this journey, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is here for you. For information, support, or a listening ear, reach out via text or call to our 24/7 Crisis & Support Hotline, (216) 619-6192.


Ready to access support?

Call (216) 619-6192 or request an appointment online today.