My grandaughter has been raped by her stepfather. How can I help her to heal?

My grandaughter has been raped by her stepfather. How can I help her to heal? She does not trust anyone and hates life. She does not have any faith. How can I help her?

Dear Grandmother,

Thank you for your caring outreach to find ways to help your granddaughter. Your question is so very courageous. To do it justice, I am offering as full a response as I am able within this forum. You may be aware of a lot of this information, but if not, I truly hope it is helpful to you.

Trauma—and especially interpersonal sexual violence such as rape by a step parent—is often experienced as a deep violation to one's physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual well-being. (That is, how we think, how feel, how we act, and our spiritual connections to self and others.) Trauma can have tremendous impacts the individual, family, and community on many levels (obvious and hidden). The reaction to trauma by the survivor and other family members can have a great influence on the survivor's outlook, her sense of self, her immediate and long term choices, and her recovery.

Trauma survivors can have different needs, so there are many considerations that affect how to help. For instance, safety issues, age, coping skills and strengths, privacy and confidentiality issues, urgent medical and behavioral issues, developmental factors, how long ago the trauma happened and resources to address current needs, readiness and responsiveness of family and others—and of course her needs, wants, and readiness, in honoring her as the authority on her experience. There are so many factors that I cannot responsibly give you specific guidance, but I encourage you to seek out local support from a skilled and knowledgeable person, who is able to help you constructively explore options. Trained licensed trauma therapists may be resources, for example. You may contact licensure boards to check their status and otherwise check their background to find the best match.

A priority is your granddaughter's safety, to prevent risk for further harm. If she is a minor and still living with the perpetrator or is otherwise at risk for harm, consider all helpful resources to ensure her safety. Call 911 if available or any helpful emergency resource if she is in immediate harm's way. Reporting the crime to police is also important if it has not been done. This action can prevent further harm to her and to others, given the risk to re-offend. Child protective services are contacted if there is concern about harm or neglect. Other possible resources may include the parental custodian/guardian (if you do not have custody), behavioral health staff, teachers, medical providers, or others who may have ideas about formal and informal support, supportive counseling, healing activities etc. Respecting the child's privacy, confidentiality, and readiness is critical, too. If others close to the trauma survivor feel lost or overwhelmed and are unclear about how to help themselves and her, seeking effective support can be helpful for them. It may also send a healing message to the trauma survivor that she matters, that others care, and that reaching out can be helpful. Everyone (including those around the trauma survivor) go at their own pace, so many around her may not wish to seek other support.I believe you are already taking important first steps to support her healing: You are caring about your granddaughter by acknowledging the sexual violation, recognizing her pain, and seeking out ways to help her most effectively. A spirit of genuine caring, respect and regard, love, compassion, and courage is a beautiful and essential first step, in my opinion.Helpful support is critical, and an aware community that does not reinforce victim blaming, but creates opportunities for her self-empowerment, can be incredibly helpful.