The medical definition of rape is “an unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly, or under threat of injury – against the will of a person or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.” Also regarded as sexual assault or statutory rape, it is a very traumatic and painful situation that affects the assaulted.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives, while 1 in 20 women and men have experienced sexual violence. Those numbers are staggering.
This means that someone in your circle might have been raped but just has not said anything to you, or you might know someone that was raped.
While working with some people who have been raped, I realized that the things people say and/or do to someone who was assaulted can sometimes add to the pain or help them heal. To those who have been assaulted before, I want you to know that it was not your fault. You cannot blame yourself for someone’s lack of self-control. And though you may not see it now, it is possible to laugh and love again.
This article is not to beat or insult anyone, instead, it is to shed light on the things we can do and/or say to help someone through such a tragic situation.
Someone you know and/or love walks up to you or calls you on the phone, his/her voice is breaking and through the uncontrollable tears and the pain they manage to say “I was raped!” What do you say? What do you do? Well, whatever you do please do NOT do and/or say any of these 5 things.
1. “Ehn! Are you sure?” – The problem with this statement is that it can sound like you are asking the person if he/she is lying! If you have questions about the circumstances, ask those instead. “Where?”, “How?”, “How are you feeling?” etc but tread lightly with your questions. Let the person share what they are comfortable with sharing. Don’t bombard the person.
2. Avoid saying anything that sounds like you are blaming the person. Statements like “What did you wear?” “why did you go there alone?” “Did you scream No and/or Stop?” “Are you sure he/she heard you?” “Are you sure you didn’t lead him/her on?” sounds like you are blaming the person. The truth is that most people who have been assaulted, already blame themselves and the last thing you want to do is validate that conviction. By making such statements, you are implying that their inability to scream or say No/Stop several times, means they wanted it and that’s not true! Science tells us that people react to trauma in different ways, and by the way, all it really should take is one “No!” or “Stop!”…No means No!
3. Avoid telling them what to do.“We must report this to the authorities”, “You have to confront this person”, e.t.c.
I get that you are concerned and possibly angry; you want the assailant to pay. However, you must try as much as possible to avoid telling the person what to do. If he/she is not ready to go to the police and you keep insisting, believe it or not, you are doing more harm than good.
4. Don’t start trying to relate by talking about yourself.
I get how you might think or believe you can relate, but the truth is that unless you’ve been through such an experience, you might not be able to relate. Additionally, even if you’ve been raped before, you only have an idea of how the person feels, but you may not FULLY understand because everyone is different. The way your situation hit you might not be the same way it hit them. Try to stay in the moment and listen to how they feel.
5. Don’t be dismissive.
Don’t say things like “Pele, it happens”, “Don’t tell anyone, just forget about it” “Men will be men”. The person may already know that it happens but saying “get over it”, “forget about it” or “it happens” to everyone sounds like you are saying that their feelings do not matter!
6. Next time it happens do …___ –
Please whatever you do, DON’T SAY THIS. Not only are you implying again that there are things they could have done you’ve also just told them it will happen again! The absolute worst, please don’t do this!
7. “Are you sure you didn’t enjoy it”
Men can be raped too, but unfortunately this is what most people say and/or think about male rape survivors. Please don’t add to their pain by saying this.
So what should you do? Here are 5 quick things you can do
1) Don’t talk, just listen.
2) Be supportive.
Try asking them how you can be of help. “I’m so sorry this happened, what can I do” or “is there anything I could do to help?”
3) Don’t call them a victim, call them survivor.
4) Don’t tell them what to do, ASK them what they want to do.
Yes, you can offer options but ONLY after the person says something like “I don’t know what to do” other than that if the person says I don’t want to go to the police, don’t start talking about why they have to go to the police! Keep in mind, they’ve just been in a situation where they feel their power was taken away, you insisting on what they should or shouldn’t do and not respecting their decisions can be annoying and hurtful!
5) Get help.
You can suggest they enroll for counseling, but you should also maybe speak to a counselor and research what is out there so that you are better equipped to help this person through this period!
There are so many things you can do to help a rape survivor. Google, research…the more you know, the better you might be able to help someone.
To all survivors out there, you are strong and amazing. You are not alone, I am rooting and praying for you!
Photo Credit: Tommaso79 | Dreamstime.com