First, learn all you can about abuse and collusion with it. This isn’t something that can be accomplished in a quick trip to the library. It will take many months of being alert to stories, being willing to discuss them with professionals who understand the issues. Put aside preconceived notions. Be willing to listen long and hard with the goal of seeing through the eyes of your loved one as your empathy grows. Take responsibility for any part you have had in the abuse, but try to avoid blaming yourself for things you now understand differently.
Plan on being there for the long haul. It will be a journey of years if not decades. If you are going to be supportive, you must own your own feelings without indiscriminately revealing those that may be hurtful.
Life will feel like a tightrope walk at times. You’ll need to get some professional help to deal with your own grief. And if you think you don’t have grief, you definitely need help.
The most troubling issue may be handling the intense anger--not just the survivor's, but your own.
However, the worst response to anything that upsets your loved one is silence or passivity. It’s better to say the “wrong” thing or do the “wrong” thing (“wrong” being something that causes an uncomfortable reaction) than to act as if there is no problem at all. Often a "wrong" response turns out to be the door opener, allowing for a very healing conversation in time.Do not be too quick to discount your role or to condemn yourself for not getting things right.
Please obtain a small library yourself. If it’s collusion that you and your friend or family have experienced, start with Carolyn Hegdon’s Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches along with the books you find on this site and "Just for the Brave" and Other Writings. Check out the extensive bibliography on clergy sexual abuse if that’s the issue.
Dee Ann Miller is the
author of Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation (2017) How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993)
The Truth about Malarkey (2000)