How do victims and survivors support each other in self-help groups?
Self-help groups are there for people who have common problems or concerns and meet up to support each other. Family members can also attend self-help groups.
Self-help in this case means "help to help yourself". It often involves providing participants with specific tips for everyday life. Self-help groups also give people the space to talk to others who have had similar experiences or are currently in a similar situation. Many victims of sexualised violence realise in the group that they are not alone with their experiences and that other people understand them. Talking to others helps them see how other people deal with their situation. People do not necessarily talk about the traumatic experiences of violence themselves in the self-help group, but rather about the resulting stresses. Some groups in fact do not allow participants to talk specifically about experiences of violence because it could be stressful to the other participants.
Self-help groups offer help to help yourself. They are not however designed to be a substitute for counselling or therapy. If you or someone close to you is currently in a very bad way and you need urgent help, read the information in the „Help in a crisis“.
What happens in a self-help group?
The participants of a self-help group meet regularly, participation is always voluntary and usually free of charge. There may be costs if the group rents a room for their meetings.
There is one rule that applies to all groups: what is discussed in the group remains confidential and must not be talked about outside the group. Self-help groups can be attended independently of therapy or in addition to it, and they come in different formats. Some have a person who oversees the meetings, some do not. This can either be a victim or a professional who is not necessarily affected by sexual violence. The group dynamics can depend on the group format. It is therefore important that you first find out how the self-help group works and whether the approach meets your individual needs.
There is not necessarily a suitable group for everyone. For this reason, some victims and survivors set up their own self-help group. This is also a good opportunity to make a difference for yourself and for others. Find out at NAKOS how you can set up a self-help group yourself. The website also has plenty of other useful information.
How do I find the right self-help group?
Specialised advice and counselling centres can help you find a suitable self-help group for victims and survivors of sexualised violence. You can also get in touch with a general advice and counselling centre.
Under „Finding help“ you can find out about the self-help groups in your area. You can also find information about self-help from self-help contact points ("Selbsthilfekontaktstellen"), which put you in touch with groups in your area. You can find local self-help contact points in the red database of NAKOS. Not all areas have groups specifically focusing on sexualised violence. However, some groups also deal with topics that are of interest to many people who have experienced sexualised violence. These include groups for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. You should always ask what the group's particular focus is.
Self-help groups provide a safe place where victims of sexualised violence can talk to each other and give each other new hope. In an interview, Max Ciolek talks about what his self-help group means to him.
Are there online self-help groups?
Yes. Many people find it easier to initially read or write about what they have experienced, instead of talking to other people face to face. Internet forums for victims and survivors can help you take this step.
They are independent of time and place and therefore always there for you. And they give you the opportunity to read about other people's experiences before revealing anything about yourself. In Internet forums, victims and survivors talk about their situation and concerns just like in a local self-help group. And it is up to you what you read or write.
This is what you should look out for when it comes to online self help
Some internet forums are completely public. Others have a public area and a private one for members. They usually have an administrator. If possible, you should first talk to a contact person of the forum. You can usually find their contact details in the public area of the forum or in the imprint.
You should also look at the website's privacy and anonymity information and make sure that it meets your needs. Some victims and survivors also share their experiences, publicly or in closed groups, on social media. You should be aware that such discussions may be accessible to the public. Social media platforms also deal with data privacy in different ways. You are advised to find out about how the individual platform handles this in advance.
You can find what you should pay attention to when it comes to online self-help and data protection on the NAKOS website.
How can you prepare for the first meeting?
Every person is different and has their own individual needs. That is why there is no "one right way" when it comes to self-help – neither online nor offline.
In order to protect yourself and other participants in the group or the internet forum, you need a shared framework and transparent rules that you can rely on. It is therefore important to discuss this with the other participants.
Before you join a group or internet forum, ask yourself a few questions: What do you want? What do you need to feel comfortable? Many self-help groups offer an initial meeting where you can discuss your expectations and needs. Internet forums also often have a contact person with whom you can discuss such things in advance.
Possible questions for the initial meeting
- What is the topic of the self-help group or forum?
- In the case of self-help groups: How often and where does the group meet? Do you feel comfortable there?
- Is there someone who oversees the group, and if so, who is it?
- Who can join the group?
- What are the rules on confidentiality?
- What are the rules of etiquette?
- Do people talk or write about the traumatic experiences themselves?
- What are the rules when someone is in crisis?
- What happens when someone does not feel well during a group session?
- How are power imbalances dealt with within and outside the group?
Reflect on your experience
You found a self-help group or an internet forum and you have attended the initial meeting? How did you feel? Did you feel that you interacted as equals? If you felt that the atmosphere was right then that is a good sign. If not, please remember that you attended voluntarily and you are not obligated to do anything. It is also perfectly acceptable to question the rules of the group. What matters is that you feel comfortable and get the help and support that's right for you.
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