When you find out that someone you love has been raped it is patently obvious (one would hope) that this is not about you. It’s about the rape survivor. That said, after the smoke has cleared you may feel a lot of emotions while you are processing that you may or may not be ready for.
I want to clarify that this post is not about the what to do during a conversation if someone confides to you that they have been raped. How to handle that conversation deserves a post on it’s own, but the first and most important thing to do is BELIEVE THEM. For God’s sake, don’t ask them what they were wearing, or if they were drinking. Really. I’ll repeat that, it’s that important. Don’t tell them they have a “duty” to report their rapist. That’s not your job.
Your job is to say “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Your job is to say thank you for trusting me with this. Your job is to say you love them. Your job is to call their rapist a sick son of a bitch. Your job is to support them, another topic that deserves it’s own post in the future.
I’ve have the privilege of never being raped myself. That has not been the case with several people I care about and unfortunately I have a lot of practice with this conversation. I tend to be empathetic, see all perspectives of a situation, and not judge. Maybe I just have “one of those faces.” Whatever the reason, people have tended to confide their secrets to me my entire life. I’m thankful they do.
I would also like to add that I’ve never been in the position where a child or someone that needed my protection confided in me. These were adult women (and one adult man) and their rapes all happened several years ago. I also did not know any of the rapists personally. I don’t want to say if the rape survivors were family, friends, or a mix of the two because their story is not mine to tell.
The rapes ranged from years of childhood sexual abuse, a roofie during a college party, an assault while passed out drunk, an attack that included torture, and once the rapist was their ex-romantic partner. However I think Obama said it best (and even his detractors would agree on this point):
“Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense.”
I found that no matter what the circumstances, the process I went through afterwards remained more or less the same. I want to make clear that I’m not an expert or a counselor, but the following coping methods are what worked for me.
Your first responsibility is to your loved one. You may not be sure how to act after the initial conversation, but the answer is really easy. You don’t need to walk on egg shells around them. They are the same person they were before. You just know their past better. Respect that gift for what it is. They did not need to make themselves vulnerable to you. Take that for what it was, a sign of trust. However, once you get home you will most likely experience the following:
You will feel rage.
Blinding, unrelenting rage. It is inevitable. You care about and cherish this person, and some deviant tried to reduce them to nothing more than a Kleenex for them to use.
Along with the rage comes violent fantasies. Technicolor, detailed, violent fantasies about what you would want to do to their rapist. I had never had really violent thoughts before and they are disconcerting and disturbing.
I found that exercise helped. Get on the treadmill and exhaust yourself with physical activity. It exhausts the body but it also exhausts the mind. Once when I was exercising hard I just burst out crying. It has a way of bringing emotions to the surface.
Eventually, the rage turns to anger and the anger fades to a dull ache. The fantasies and details become less sharp, less graphic, less detailed.
Also, do not discuss with the rape survivor the anger you are feeling. It serves no purpose except to hurt them and feel undeserved guilt. Be an adult and show some wisdom.
You May Have Nightmares
This is normal, and they will pass. If you wake up from an especially disturbing one turn on your lights and read for awhile and try not to dwell on it. Your mind is trying to process the anger and misplaced guilt you have about not being able to protect your loved one. The aforementioned exercise will help you fall asleep faster and deeper. Melatonin is a good natural sleep aid that helps put you to sleep but doesn’t keep you asleep all night.
Throw Yourself a Pity Party
Don’t pretend everything is fine. It’s not. Your heart has just been broken. Unplug the phone, call in sick to work, and take to your bed. Get drunk. Eat a pint of Ben and Jerrys. Cry and feel depressed.
But then…then you need to stop and get up. Jesus rose after three days and so can you. The important part is to get it out of your system. The next important part is to go on. If you feel you can’t, then it’s time to get some professional help.
Don’t worry about feeling guilty that you feel so upset when the crime didn’t happen to you. It’s all part of the process. You care about the rape survivor and they are your first priority. But it’s okay to take care of yourself too.
You May Get Depressed
You may feel a crushing sadness. You may lose faith about the goodness in humanity. You may question why God would let this terrible thing happen. You just have to get through to the other side. Like the anger, it tends to fade with time.
Talk to Someone
I never went to counseling, and to be honest maybe I should have. It may have helped. Call a rape counseling hotline or therapist. Talk to a friend or family member about what happened. Though be very mindful and conscientious about not speaking to someone that is in the same social circle. Even if they are not in the same circles there’s no reason to use their name. Respect their privacy.
Become a Feminist
Between the confessions of rape and confessions of domestic violence in my immediate circle I felt like I didn’t have a choice. All the stereotypes that I’d be perceived as a bitter, ugly, angry man hater didn’t matter. I simply couldn’t live like this any longer. My heart couldn’t take it.
It helps you feel empowered. It takes away the helplessness felt during depression because it feels like you are finally “doing” something to help stop the violence.
This is an aside but feminism helps combat male rape too. One of the reasons male rape is so often suffered in silence is that rape is seen as something that happens to women. Thus likening the survivor to a woman. In other words, they’re weak.
The more I learn about feminism the more I want to know. The stereotypes aren’t true. It’s simply women and their allies uniting around the simple truth that “this is my body and it belongs to me.”
The reality is that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused. 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted. 1 in 7 women will be raped by their husbands. Join in the fight to help support strangers and reduce the amount of rapes and violence.
So be well. Love on your friends and family. Take care of them, and take care of yourself.
RAINN – Rape and Incenst National Network