Advice from Liane Nelson, Ph.D.

Published Tuesday, October 2, 2018

With the country’s attention and conversation focused on testimonies surrounding accusations of sexual abuse, Liane Nelson, Ph.D., Director of WJCS’s Trager Lemp Center for Treating Trauma & Promoting Resilience, offers recommendations for victims of sexual abuse who are considering talking with others about their experience for the first time. Dr. Nelson’s advice is based on her work with clients as well as her own personal experience. In 1990, Dr. Nelson testified that she witnessed a then gubernatorial candidate nine years earlier encouraging his daughter’s friends, ages 13 to 16--with Dr. Nelson being among them, to strip and swim naked. He tried to pull off her 13-year-old cousin’s bathing suit. When the story became public, and other allegations followed, the man withdrew his candidacy.

“No one, no matter how famous, should be allowed to commit sexual abuse,” states Dr. Nelson. “Speaking up is an important way to prevent other people from becoming victims.” She understands why many victims keep silent: feeling ashamed, fear of being harmed by the perpetrator, worrying that you won’t be believed, being dependent on the abuser for money and/or shelter, or being trapped in an abuse cycle are some of the impediments to speaking out. Dredging up a horrifying and shameful experience that happened in the past can also trigger anger and sadness. When the perpetrator is a well-known figure in the community or in politics, victims are also, often appropriately afraid of being inundated by publicity as well as threats from enraged supporters of the perpetrator.

“It’s important to remember that sexual abuse can happen to anyone at any age and from any background,” says Dr. Nelson. It takes courage and planning to share what happened. She recommends taking the following steps before speaking out about an experience of being sexually abused:

  1. Determine who it is safe to disclose to. Share your experience with someone who will believe you, whom you can trust, and who will help protect you. Support from family and friends is essential to overcoming and healing from the trauma of sexual abuse.
  2. Your immediate safety is most important. If the abuse was recent or is ongoing let authorities know, especially if you are concerned about your ongoing safety.
  3. Call a victim’s hotline or helpline for direction (My Sister’s Place, Victims Assistance Services, Safe Horizon).

What if someone discloses to you that they have been sexually abused? Dr. Nelson advises:

  • Take the disclosure seriously. It’s very important that sexual abuse victims feel listened to and believed.
  • Connect them to help – the WJCS Trager Lemp Center for Treating Trauma & Promoting Resilience at 914-949-7699.

“I was hounded by the press after I disclosed and I identify with the fears and challenges that abuse victims experience when speaking out about abuse,” says Dr. Nelson. “Talking about it is very difficult but, ultimately, it helps you build strength and resilience, and prevents other people from becoming victims of the abuser.”

Dr. Nelson shared her personal experience and the vulnerabilities that sexual abuse victims face with a reporter at Westchester News12.

You can watch the video here: http://westchester.news12.com/story/39189551/psychologist-reporting-sex-abuse-is-extreme-decision-for-trauma-survivors


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