Understandably, the subject of rape can provoke a visceral reaction, and it is certainly a sensitive subject. More often than not, we as a society like to put it under the rug and taboo it. However, like with many difficult issues, we need to talk openly and productively about the violent act of sexual abuse.
This article will help you understand the mindset of a rape victim better, and it will give you the basic pointers for helpful communication with them. Hopefully, having read our guidelines, you’ll be helping rape victims recover, or at least you won’t cause additional suffering.
Don’t Tell Us to Move On
Understandably, you, as a bystander, want to alleviate someone’s pain. Unfortunately, telling a sexual abuse survivor to pull themselves by the bootstraps simply won’t cut it. They may appear like the same old person you used to know. However, having been raped is a deeply traumatic event that can lead to lifelong consequences.
The victim has suffered a horrible act of violence that can create scars physically, psychologically, and emotionally. The severity of trauma can be compared with a horrible traffic accident or being affected by a life-threatening disease. You wouldn’t go about cheering up cancer patients: Come on, chin up! Walk it off; you can do it!
Preaching to a rape victim to move on is invalidating their suffering. Nobody wants to be raped. This is something that happens to a person, and they need time and energy to process and heal. Just because you want to make the pain magically go away, it won’t. Still, support may help greatly, and that is what you should do.
It’s Not God’s Plan
Many people of faith like to turn to the Good Book when faced with hardships. The devout find comfort in believing that there is God’s plan, and ultimately, all their problems could be interpreted as necessary building blocks for the grand design. If you are one of these people, please keep your beliefs to yourself.
Rape victims have undergone a debilitating act of violence, and there is no excuse for it. It is not helpful if you try to explain to the abuse survivor that their trauma is a necessary step in the bigger picture. Don’t insist that God has put the victim on trial or that, eventually, it can lead to better things.
Avoid quoting the bible with the explanation that the benevolent God must have had their reasons for letting rape happen. Don’t impose your religious beliefs if the abused person never asked for it. Try giving them comfort in a different way.
Do Not Ask Us What We Are Wearing
Sadly, this is a common reaction to the news of rape. Many people instinctively try to find logic and reason for this heinous act. Impulsively they blurt out questions: “What was she wearing?”; “Did she do something provocative?”; or “What was she doing there in the first place?” These kinds of questions are especially damaging since they put the focus of the blame on the victim and not on the assailant.
If presented with such inquiries, a rape victim might feel ashamed and think it was her fault for what had happened. What’s more, other unfortunate women can get afraid of such potential questioning and consequently decide not to report rape and suffer in silence.
Try listening with an open mind and without judgment. You should be striving to see the rape victim’s POV and not make her unsure of herself. Victims must have a safe space to present their case, or else the perpetrator might strike again.
Stop Mentioning What Happened
Certain people have the urge to put ugly things under the rug. Still, the other side of the medal is equally problematic. Friends and family members of the victim want to champion justice, and they constantly talk about the violent event. Their heart is in the right place; they speak about how the rape victim is brave and strong. What they don’t realize is that by doing that, they might be forcing the abused person to constantly relive the event.
People deal with their emotions differently, and there isn’t a ‘right way’ with processing a trauma. Although you may know a lot of facts about rape victims and you have been informed well, don’t set up your expectations. True, some people heal better if they talk about it. Nevertheless, this conversation needs to happen in a caring way and when the abuse survivor is ready.
Don’t Leave Us Alone
A common reaction to rape is that survivors tend to develop a type of dissociative disorder. That implies that the assault victim will distance themselves from their surroundings, they may experience time differently, and in extreme cases, they can even get disconnected from reality. Very often, the surroundings tend to notice that the victim is shutting off and that they seem distant and unready to communicate.
As a bystander, you may feel that the rape survivor is building walls and that they don’t want you around. They might even openly ask you to give them space. You should respect their wishes, but there is a huge difference between giving them space and disappearing. Don’t abandon the victim, even though they are trying to push you away. As difficult as it is, try to keep close and be ready to help.
What’s the Point?
In a nutshell, helping rape victims recover is the long goal. The fact you are taking your time to research the subject is the first step. Secondly, being mindful of the topic will bring you a step closer to doing the right thing. Lastly, don’t expect quick and magical results. Healing from rape takes time, and you should stick around if you want to help the abused person.
Naturally, you would like the victim to move on, but don’t insist on this and dictate their healing process. The abused may end up feeling that they are doing something wrong and feel additional guilt. Similarly, if you try to find meaning and logic behind the horrible event, the victim can get the idea that they deserved what happened. So don’t ask them why they wore short skirts, and don’t console them about how God has a plan.
Finally, don’t leave the survivor alone. They may feel lost and do extreme things as a cry for help, but they need you more than ever for your support. Don’t rush their healing process, just be by their side, and in time, hopefully, things will get better.