***Trigger Warning and Not for the Faint of Heart***
She said those three very scary words “I’ve been raped”. After your brief Oh S**T! moment of shock, it is time to respond.... respond... respond with what? Total brain overload and a stumble of words?
Unless you have been there, don’t presume to know how she feels.
Express your sorrow and sadness over it, but don’t tell her what feelings she should have. “I can’t imagine how that feels... (or how scary that was, or how awful that was)”. This is different than “you must be so angry” or “you must feel awful”. If she wasn’t or isn’t feeling that way, she may be now (or have shame if she doesn’t) because you just told her which feelings are the ones she should be feeling or, at least, the ones you believe to be right. She doesn’t need you to add on feelings for her. She has a lot of feelings at the moment and they may be flooding her. Let her decide how she feels.
Understand that people process things and disclose on their own time.
Rape very often is accompanied by shame. Shame is based on a belief of judgment by others. If shame feels bad, why would someone share it with others? Some people need to time to grasp what has happened and the gravity of the whole situation. It can be confusing. Be thankful and honored they trusted you enough to tell you (no matter when it happened). We advise not stating that you wish they had told you sooner or ask them why they didn’t disclose earlier. They got there when they needed to, please don’t ask them to justify their timeline.
Keep your murderous desires under wraps.
We imagine that you might be angry. Perhaps you want to end the existence of the person who could do this horrible thing. The pain you see in her may feel too much to bear. You may think you can express how much you care by telling her how much you want to retaliate. Anger is uncomfortable to be around and unpredictable- And now she tries to calm you down. Whoopsy, the conversation that was about her just became about you. Just to be clear, the rape was not about you and retaliation makes it about you. Let’s not do this. So put the red undies and cape away, today is not your day to be hero.
Try to understand penis privilege (yep, we said it).
When walking by a male stranger who had taken the liberty of expressing what his preference in bed with me would be, an outraged male friend asked why I didn’t say anything back or shut him down. Good question. The answer is: If women were to fight back on every comment, look, innuendo, cat call, slap on the butt, or elevator eyeing; we would be exhausted, perpetually angry and completely unproductive in the rest of our lives. It would consume so much time and effort, we have learned to ignore it and move on. “But you should stand up for yourself” he says. How much does he really know what it is like to have to stand up for yourself? When you are a 5’5” female and 140lbs, you get bullied. When you are male at 6’4” and 220lbs, not so much. First moral of the story is: It is not that it doesn’t bother us or that we like it; it is impossible to react to it all. Second moral of the story is: Try to empathize but don’t claim to know. You have a penis, which decreases the likelihood and frequency of you having your sexual boundaries violated.
Don’t get defensive.
Bet that last tip sent you into an immediate frenzy of feeling attacked for being born with a Y chromosome. There is no assumption here that you are a jerk or insensitive because you are a man. I am not ignoring sexual harassment or assault on males. It is very real, indefensibly ignored, and unfairly treated. I am also making no assumption that every man crosses sexual boundaries or is dangerous to women. It is very true that the majority of men are not perpetrators. So, when she expresses feeling unsafe around men or thinking she will never trust them again... tell her not every man is like that, she can trust you, and there a plenty of men who are respectful and safe.... Ooops.. STOP.. go back... that is about you again. We just put her in the position of being careful about hurting your feelings and reassuring you she knows you’re safe. Let’s try again. This time, go with empathizing with her about how much fear the rape instilled in her and the level of safety it has taken from her. Ask what you can do for her in that moment. How can you help her feel safe? Keep it about her.
Nope, not broken.
Shaky and battered, but not broken. Ask her what she needs before you start doing for her. Don’t take away the things she is still capable of doing herself. Don’t ignore what happened because you don’t want to upset her. You both know what happened and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Tiptoeing around the rape, around normal everyday conversation, anything to do with sex, or discussing other problems will make her feel broken. Offer normalcy because she is still her and you still love her as normal.
You don’t need the details.
What will this knowledge accomplish? Once you know, it is in your head with no toilet bowl handle to flush it out. Do you really want to ask her to relive it? She didn’t want to live it the first time around. The only reason to provide details is if she feels that this is what she needs.
When she does share, listen... and listen without questioning or commenting.
No “that bastard”, or disgusted faces, or shocked responses. Just listen. You have two ears and one mouth. The twin holes should be open the whole time, and the singular hole should open only to remind her you love her and it wasn’t her fault. Remind her, don’t insist. Sounds like this: (you)“It is not your fault”, (her) “yes it is”, (you) “I love you”. She doesn’t need an argument over fault and blame. Most likely she is already having it in her head without you.
Get your own support.
Okay, after all this talk of not making it about you.... IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO MAKE IT ABOUT YOU NOW! You have just found out that your loved one has been raped, witnessed her be in pain, held back your anger, and kept it all about her. This is physically exhausting, traumatic, and emotionally overwhelming. Get a counselor or some other form of professional support. It’s a good bet people don’t want their rape shared with others who are part of their social circle or of the general public. A counselor keeps it confidential and allows some place for you to let go of all your internal turmoil. Tell them all of the creative ways you have dreamed up for torturing the person who did this to her (just don’t follow through with any of them). Unload all the awful things you think about the perpetrator freely and openly. Say out loud all the things you wanted to say when she told you her story. Express all the pain you are experiencing along with her. Build skills to get through this and help her the best you can. Think this is the hardest one?... Consider yourself challenged