According to statistics, one in three women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Based on this information, I can assume that either you, or someone you love has been the victim of sexual violence.
So, I want to offer you a bit of insight into the mind of someone who has been raped. This may not apply to all survivors; however, it applies to a lot of us.
First, let me tell you about my experience in the aftermath of rape. I was raped in 2007 by someone I knew and trusted… someone everyone trusted. Immediately after this happened, I told a couple of people who I thought to be my closest confidants. I realized I was wrong when the “news” spread like wildfire.
Here is a list of some of the things people said to me:
- “You know he’s had a thing for you. You obviously wanted him, too.”
- “Well? Whatever, you’re a slut who is just regretting your decision to have sex with him.”
- “Oh, f*ck you! He would never do that! Why are you trying to hurt him?”
- “You are going to ruin his career because YOU changed your mind about consensual sex?!”
- “He must have misunderstood you.”
- “If you were raped, then why don’t you have a broken nose and black eyes? Why doesn’t he have scratch marks on him?”
- “Why were you alone with him in the first place?”
- “You’re just trying to save face.”
- “I’m sure that he didn’t mean to do that.”
- “You must have been flirting with him for him to get that impression.”
The list goes on and on. Obviously, these questions hurt… not just because people faulted me, but because I blamed myself for being “naïve and stupid”! It was easier to pretend like it did not happen than to lose faith in my own instincts. It was easier for me to excuse him than to acknowledge my complete lack of control. I had lost my ability to gauge a “good guy” from a “bad guy”. After I was raped, I became uncalibrated in a world of 50% men. I did not trust ANY MALE… I still struggle to trust them.
But do you want to know the one question that I just could no longer answer out loud?
What is his name?
WHY?! Why can’t I just say his damn name?! This sonofabitch that stole the confidence I had in myself… The asshole who took advantage of his position and my trust. I can call him every name in the book but the one he was legally assigned. It’s been 12 years and I finally settled on two answers to that question.
Answer #1: Once I saw the response from people who knew him, I saw his credibility spontaneously outweigh my own. I became a liar, a slut, and the perpetrator. They felt the need to defend him. So, in an effort to save my credibility, I no longer told people his name. It was easier for people to believe me if they could imagine a scary looking monster in his place, rather than the “nice and normal” guy he appeared to be. And I couldn’t blame them because until then, his nice/caring/normal demeanor also fooled me. They refused to see the wolf when I “removed” the sheep’s clothing.
Answer #2: I stopped telling people his name because of the action my confidant would want to take in my honor. Some people would run with my story and violate me again by taking away my choices. They would threaten to stalk him down, hurt/maim/kill him, and take away the tiny bit of control I felt like I had retained. They would demand that I do SOMETHING that would make THEM feel better. If I didn’t take the actions they wanted, then they would overstep me and take the actions they wanted to take.
I cannot reiterate this enough. When someone tells you they have been violated, let them be the one to decide what should be done! You do not need to seek revenge for them. Whether they decide to report it or not is their choice. (There are obvious exceptions to this.) If they decide to do nothing, be ok with that! When you become vengeful and emotionally charged, they are now required to step out of their vulnerability just to calm you down. It requires the survivor to become a savior.
Here are some appropriate responses when someone shares their story with you:
- Support. Tell them they get to decide the outcome, whatever that may be. You can offer suggestions but separate your wants from theirs.
- Please know there are certain circumstances when sexual abuse/assault NEEDS to be reported, and that varies by state. Research it, if you aren’t sure.
- Empathy. If you don’t have your own sexual assault experience, then relate to the feelings they share. You do not have to be a survivor of sexual assault yourself, you just need to know the feeling of loss, pain, violation, anger, fear, frustration, shame, etc. Just let them tell you what they are feeling and let them experience that emotion completely.
- Calm. Showing your own emotion is ok if it doesn’t force them into taking care of you. Sit and just BE with them. You don’t have to say much… just being present (both in mind and body) is one of the most valuable responses you can have.
- Validate. I cannot emphasize this enough: TELL THEM YOU BELIEVE THEM! The simple act of sharing the story is made more difficult because the survivor is usually more afraid of the response!
- Listen. Practice active listening and rephrase the story in your own words. There are certain people I have told my story to that did not actually listen to me, although it seemed like they did on the surface. Some people even forgot that I had told them the story altogether. Be present as they brave their most vulnerable and fearful of stories.
- Ask them their triggers. Sexual assault doesn’t end after the event. It lives on for quite possibly the rest of their lives. Many people who have been assaulted may not remember some of the greatest of details, but they will remember certain things that can trigger a very real response in the future. Be mindful of those triggers and be prepared to respond appropriately.
The experience of sexual assault doesn’t end once the act is done. Allowing someone to openly share their story without the fear of retaliation is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Offering them a safe place to talk may seem small but it is a powerful act of giving them their power back.