I’ve seen this floating around the internet for a while now. Out of all the do’s and don’ts that I have seen for this topic, this is by far the best one I’ve seen. Some of them may sound goofy or dumb, but I am sure some how somewhere someone was told that particular thing. It’s amazing that the only people who ever seem to read these things are rape victims hoping that someone they know will be sincere enough. Or at least that’s my opinion. I hope everyone takes a minute to read over these. Chances are, you know someone affected by sexual assault. Many victims (like myself) stay silent for many reasons. We need to help break the silence once and for all. The victims did nothing wrong… the rapists did.
Ways to Help
Your loved one may need your help right now, but be unable to ask for it. I hope you’ll consider offering it. You can help her heal more than you know.
Believe him or her. This is the most important thing you can do. Even if the assault or abuse happened many years ago, she needs to be believed now.
Validate the emotions your loved one expressed. Healing from sexual assault presents survivors with a myriad of feelings. Your loved one has every right to each of his unique feelings.
Offer a somewhat detached perspective. It may be easier for your friend to talk about rape and sexual assault if you respond by letting her know that you care about what happened to her, but avoid showing very strong emotional reactions. This is because many of us feel somehow responsible for our supporter’s feelings about the sexual violence. Of course, you probably do have strong feelings about it and will need support for them. Try to avoid depending on the survivor for that support.
Offer practical support. Your friend may find that organizing her life is difficult while she is in crisis. You can help by offering to help. For instance, she may need help moving out of her apartment or she may be nervous about attending her first counseling session. Just by offering your help, she will know that you care and if she needs you, she’ll be able take you up on it.
Call her and make plans with her. While I was in crisis, healing from my rape, the friends I most appreciated would call me up, with a suggested activity and a date and time. Your friend may be feeling to overwhelmed to pick up the phone and make plans with you, but she will probably appreciate it if you do.
Let her know you are thinking of her. Send flowers, a card or a note. Knowing that you care will lift her spirits during the tough times. I still keep notes from thoughtful friends and sometimes am moved to tears by the love they extended to me.
Express your anger in a controlled manner. Your loved one has likely experienced her rape as violent and out of control. Expressions of heated anger will likely make her feel further out of control.
Educate yourself. Sexual assault triggers a wide range of emotions. Your loved one may find herself becoming anxious, disassociated from her feelings, or depressed. If you educate yourself about the responses to sexual assault, you’ll be better prepared to help her deal with his.
Take time for yourself. Talking to someone in such pain can be difficult. Take the time that you need. You’ll do more help by stepping back for a moment than you will by listening resentfully.
Most importantly, let her know she can talk to you. Your compassionate, listening ear is the best you have to give her. Let her know that you are not afraid to listen to what she has to say. However, please bear in mind that she may not always want to talk about her feelings about her assault. Sometimes it is just too difficult, but knowing that you are available can be enough to get her through the painful times.
There are many ways that you can help a friend or family member who has been a victim of rape or sexual violence:
Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental. Be patient. Remember, it will take your loved one some time to deal with the crime. Help to empower your loved one. Rape and sexual violence are crimes that take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your loved one to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.
It is also important to note that having a friend or family member who is raped or assaulted can be a very upsetting experience. For this reason it is also important that you take care of yourself. Even if your friend and family member isn’t ready to talk, you can get support for yourself.
Things to Say
Many people do not know what to say when a friend is talking about sexual assault. Most of the time, your supportive listening ear is all that is needed. Please bear in mind that your friend has had total control taken from her and is probably struggling to reclaim it. Offering ideas and suggestions is a better idea than giving direct advice. It is not always necessary to come up with the perfect words, but here are a few ideas.
You are on my mind. How are you? How can I help you? Can I do anything to make things better for you right now? I’m glad you told me. It just happened to you. You didn’t cause it and you didn’t deserve it. I’ll support you no matter what you decide to do. What would you like to do next? It’s okay of you are at a loss for words. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. You are doing the very best you can.
What Not to Say
Talking about sexual assault is very difficult for a survivor. If she is telling you about what happened, she is probably revealing a very intimate part of herself to you. She deserves to be believed and treated with respect. If you have said any of these things, though, you could probably just apologize and she’ll feel a lot better.
Silence: When I told others about my rape, embarrassed silence felt like shame to me. “I’m so sorry,” is a good reaction.
Any sort of minimizing statement: “It could have been worse,” “Don’t think about it,” “Life goes on,” and statements that ignore what we are feeling are likely to be received as minimizing our pain and it will hurt. A simple “I’m so glad you are here with me. It will take time, but you will get through this. I am here for you as you do,” will make your friend feel better.
“You’ve got to move on with your life.” — Healing is the survivor’s life right now. She’s doing the work she needs to do so she can feel whole again.
Statements that begin with “You need to…” — Please respect her enough to let her decide what she needs to do. She may, however, appreciate it if you pointed out options by rephrasing those statements to begin with “You could…”
“What did you do to cause it?” — The survivor did nothing to cause what happened. Nothing about her could provoke a normal person to assault her. The blame lies on her attacker.
“It doesn’t sound like it was a bad rape.” — Since rape is prevalent in our society, a lot of people think it is no big deal. However, having an unwanted object put inside of your body is just about the most violating and violent thing that can happen to a person, even if there are no wounds or bruises. Please don’t minimize what happened to your loved one.
“Isn’t it time you got over this?” — Healing from sexual assault takes time and sometimes things just come up to remind a survivor of what she endured. Healing from trauma cannot be neatly enclosed into a time limit.
“He didn’t actually rape you.” — If someone attempted to rape your friend, but was not able to complete it, she may very well feel horrible. After my rape, I found myself questioning the humanity of others. How could someone have wanted to do this to me? Did I provoke this? What does this say about my humanity and the humanity of others? It is likely that your friend is having similar questions.
“If this were true, you would have reported it.” — If we went by statistics, rape and child abuse would, in fact, seem rare. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000, only 28% of rapes were reported in 1999. Of sexually abused children in grades five through twelve 48% of the boys and 29% of the girls told no one about the abuse, not even a friend or sibling. Many people do not report for a myriad of reasons, but that does not mean it did not happen.
“I’m going to kill him.” — This will probably frighten her. You have every right to be angry, but please keep her feelings in mind. A simple, “It makes me very angry that you were violated,” said calmly will validate her feelings and will probably not frighten her.
“You knew/were married to him. It can’t be rape.” 62% of female survivors knew their assailant. 43% of survivors are raped by a friend or acquaintance. 17% were raped by an intimate (NCVS, 2000). The rapist is very rarely a masked man jumping out of the bushes.
“Why didn’t you report it?” — Sometimes this question is asked out of honest curiosity, but a lot of survivors will see it as a criticism of their choices.
“Can we talk about something else? This is disgusting.” — What was done to your friend is unconscionable, but she is not. Don’t make her feel as though she is.
“You are doing this for attention. I very much doubt that your friend is trying to call attention to herself by making herself known as “The Victim of Sexual Violence,” It’s not a title many people want.
“Move on. It happened so long ago.” A survivor would like nothing more than to be able to “move on.” That is not possible without processing the resulting feelings. To do so, she needs to talk. Please don’t silence her as she moves through the process. Perhaps you could tell her you are glad she is dealing with it now.
“He would never do that!” Rapists can be anyone. They can be the most popular boy in school, they can be a friend’s brother. It is doubtful that your friend is lying. A better thing to say would be, “There is no way you could have known he would do that.”
“But you went out on a date with him.” Date rape is very common. Going on a date does not make a person obligated to have sex.
“Why didn’t you scream or fight?” Rape is often seen as a life threatening experience. In life threatening instances, humans fight, freeze, or flee. Your friend may have frozen, which is a very common response. She may already be asking herself those questions. What she needs from you is reassurance that it is a totally normal reaction and does not excuse the rapist’s actions
And here are some more… We’re still your friends, family, wives, moms, students, husbands, teachers, doctors, brothers and loved ones. There’s no need to back off or be scared of us. For the most part these suggestions are pretty easy to avoid, as you will see in a minute. Please don’t…
- Ask if we liked it. No one likes being physically overpowered.
- Tell us “it’s just sex”. Rape is a crime of power, control, and extreme violence where sex is used as a weapon against someone weaker. It is not sex.
- Tell us how we could have avoided it. Believe me, if we could have prevented it we would have.
- Make fun of us. We have faced an attacker who sometimes is willing to kill and have survived. What’s there to make fun of?
- Tell us it would never happen to you and why. We didn’t think we would become statistics either.
- There’s no need to avoid us. We’re still the same person you’ve come to care about or learned to care about. We’ve just been unspeakably hurt. We’re not contagious.
- Please don’t treat us like we have the plague. Chances are we don’t. Do you?
- God isn’t punishing us for some misdeed by allowing this to happen. God helps us heal. He doesn’t send someone to hurt His people.
- Don’t tell us it was God’s will we were raped. Do tell us it was God’s will that we survived!
- Don’t disbelieve us. According to survey respondents being disbelieved is a survivor’s greatest fear.
- Don’t tell us that survivors make up tales for attention. According to The National Coalition Against Sexual Assault false rape reports only happen 2% of the time. That’s a 98% chance that no matter how strange it sounds to you the rape isn’t being abricated.
- Don’t tell me not to talk about it. Yes it upsets me to talk about it but that is the only way that I can sort through it.
- Don’t say, “It happened on a date, that’s common”. When you say that, it belittles me and my feelings about the assault. It’s not common because it happened to me and I’m not a statistic.
- Don’t say “other people have it worse off than you”. I’m not “other people”. I’m me.
- Don’t feel you need to retaliate against our attacker. We know the perpetrator is capable of violence. Please don’t make us worry about you being hurt. We’ll feel more secure knowing you’ll remain in one piece.
- Don’t blame us for what happened. It’s not our fault.
- Don’t tell us to “get over it”. We would if we could and we are trying our best. Support us as we struggle to find our way again.
- Don’t tell us to put what happened out of our minds. It’s not that simple.
- Don’t tell us “it’s no big deal”. Rape is an enormous challenge to heal from. It haunts even our dreams.
- If we disagree about safety issues in the future please realize that what may sound strange to you may help us feel safe.
- Don’t say something like, “Well, it’s been six months (a year, 5 years etc.) and ask if we’re “over it” yet. Chances are that we may not be ready to go back to life as it was. We may never be ready and may have to create a new life for ourselves as we learn to be safe again.
- Don’t tell us we are weak because it impacts our life. We are stronger than words can describe.
- Don’t ask us what you are supposed to do to get past what happened to us. We aren’t sure what we’re going to do.
- Don’t ask us if we did this on purpose. We didn’t do anything except survive.
- Don’t ask us if we couldn’t have done something differently during the attack. We made the best choices we could to survive. We got away without being killed didn’t we? That’s proof our instincts were right. Please help us learn to realize that ourselves.
- Don’t tell us that it’s not rape because we knew the attacker. Numerous studies tell us that our perpetrators are more likely to be known to us than unknown.
- If you give us a hug and we pull away please know that chances are we’re not rejecting you. We may have a hard time being able to respond right now.
- If we do pull away from you please don’t get mad. Tell us you care. Chances are you’ll get that hug after all!
- If you’re together and the survivor has a flashback, try not to be mad at the survivor. We hate the darned things too! Flashbacks are always rough. It’s difficult to know what to do. It’s got to be difficult to watch. Any anger should go the one who caused the rape and not the survivor who has to put her life together.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to us if we’re upset. Knowing you are there may be just what we need.
- If we become suicidal please don’t take that as a sign of weakness. Take that as a sign we’re overwhelmed, trying to cope, and need help.
- Don’t pretend rape doesn’t happen to people you know. It does.
- Don’t get the idea rape just happens to “those” kinds of people. This crime happens to as many as 1 woman in 4 crossing ethnic, racial, economic and social boundaries.
- Don’t be afraid of a person who was raped. I promise as a survivor, the rape will affect you but won’t rub off on you. The person you love is still the same person as before.
- Don’t deny your feelings after finding out a friend was raped. Call a rape crisis center’s hotline and find out what support is available for you.
- Do not tell us we should take it as a compliment. Rape isn’t about lust or attractiveness, it’s an act of power and force.
- Do not tell us “Oh yeah, I know a bunch of girls who’ve been raped” as if it were no big deal. We realize we aren’t the only ones but by saying that it belittles how it hurts by making it just another number.