Based on the awkward and not so helpful reactions of others when I talked about being raped, I’ve made a suggestion list at the end of what to do and not to do.
To preface: this is what actually happened with the first people I tried to tell:
First person, a friend (within weeks of the rape, end of 2012)
We sat at a small outdoor table and I explained to a male friend, the only westerner near me at that time, that my boyfriend ‘forced me to have sex.’ I said I was upset because I didn’t want it to be rape, and I didn’t know if it really was. My friend looked angry and upset, too, and I felt encouraged to blurt out my mind.
This confusion of what to call it, I babbled, was because while my mind was in a state of lockjaw, numb terror-reality-denial, my body had responded. My body had acted complacent, even willing. (By this I mean my vagina was wet, not that my arms were reaching out or my mouth was kissing). My friend (a male about my age) suddenly calmed down and looked a touch disappointed in me, saying, oh, for a minute I thought he really raped you.
….Then I didn’t know what to say. My brain gnashed its gooey teeth and I teetered on internal ledges, considering if my instinctive feelings of being grossly violated were wrong and I was overreacting and misrepresenting. I kept quiet and let my wheels turn for a couple weeks until I figured out, wait: I was crying… I was crawling away.. I don’t know why my body was wet but it wasn’t consensual. It was rape. It was deliberate. He had even told me once he wanted to get me pregnant to get me to stay, I thought it was a joke. He had threatened to rape me once too. It was rape. I was not mistaken.
What happened with the second person I told (about a year later, 2013): this person was a new, American (now ex) boyfriend who’d been in peace corps. He was so supportive, and in believing in his support, I finally felt the cathartic egress of so many pent up emotions and start of healing… until the moment he commented that he knew so many girls who’d been raped. It doesn’t sound like a door slamming kind of comment, but it slammed mine. Maybe the way he said it, it sounded like the casual offhand remark of my personal trauma being one of many fascinating morbid stories to this experienced man. I felt like just that: a story collected. One of many. Nothing poignant or unique or terrible about my rape, not when it happens to so many. I retreated and felt more small and alone than ever.
Hm. That’s how murder is too, I guess. If you live in a place where, say, murder happens every day, you lose the resolution of individuals voices and pain and suffering. It all blends into a sad, unfocused background. Yet, when it loses resolution, It also then doesn’t seem so bad. After all, there’s no stark contrast.
Like hearing about a grisly murder of a teenager in a bright happy, middle class neighborhood where crimes never happened before. Gruesome and unexpected.
Then hearing about a series of four nasty murders of teens in a neighborhood that only four months ago had two other murders. You see the difference in how each makes you feel? The former is shocking, acute, unusual. It feels so individual, so personal. The latter elicits a broader, vaguer sympathy, but there’s no single individual to focus on. I fear when crimes happen over and over, others develop an acceptance that it will probably happen again. In doing so, on some level they stop caring.
That’s what I heard beneath my boyfriends words: hey, I know lots just like you, and they all came to me, too, for support. I’m a great guy. But on some level I can’t care about it being your individual experience, I’ve heard it too much. It’s just something bad that happens in the world.
Maybe that’s why it’s hard to talk to counsellors. You go in there knowing you won’t be distinct. That too many other people have had horrible things happen to them, that your professional listener is probably by now numb to your kind of story, and may be subconsciously ranking your story as better or worse than all the other horrors heard.
A rape victim must be seen and treated as an individual, even knowing that there are thousands of other individuals who similarly suffer. A common crime is not less of a crime. “Mine is not a new story, mine is nothing new, but it is to me.”
Third person was one of my closest female friends (yeah, still couldn’t bear to tell my family). about a year and a half after the rape. Maybe 2013 or 14.
Her thoughtful response, as we walked through the woods: you seem to like to date bad people. A bit taken aback, I then agreed with her… We walked on, kicking up dead leaves. I was wanting desperately to just let it all out, so later that night I told her about the abortion too. She hugged and cuddled me and never mentioned any of it again, ever.
Fourth: I started finding it easier to share… I sort of told my boyfriend (soon to be husband) about 2 years ago as well. In 2014.
I gave him my diary from peace corps, told him not to read past a certain point. Of course he did, found my tiny sticks of positive pregnancy, my lapses in entries and the weird, disconnected things I wrote. He cried. I remember the feeling of believing he might love me so much he felt my pain, that he could imagine for himself and, unique for a man because grown men don’t really fear rape, almost emphasize. I told him I was too broken to be fixed, he said he could handle it.
In retrospect… Nope. No one will feel that pain, the one relived and felt over and over like a recurring constant nightmare. They, the outsiders, can forget about it, can misunderstand the progress or not recognize a relapse, can be impatient or just plain dumb sometimes. It’s hard to forgive that, but you have to. It didn’t happen to them. No matter how much anyone sympathizes… It’s a pain you only understand when it happens to you. Like living while a loved one dies, like almost dying, like being tortured, like anything beyond understanding. You hope it never happens to you, and you feel scared and sad for the person it did happen to.
Yayyayayayayayayay now for the helpful stuff!
SUGGESTIONS FOR A LISTENER WHEN SOMEONE NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT BEING RAPED
So what is ‘right’ when it comes to comforting a rape victim? I only know what I wished was said and done for me, and what hurt most. Here’s my advice.
1. Listen genuinely. As soon as she or he tries to start talking, don’t say anything except with your body language: encourage connection with eye contact, squeezing a hand or shoulder if she can handle being touched, or just sitting with your body facing her, relaxed and waiting. Listen even if you want to say something, even when the perfect sympathetic phrase is waiting to come out your mouth, just shut up. What I found was that if I could let it all out, over and over again, the pain and grip of the rape lessened bit by bit.
And please. Watch your expressions. If she admits being drunk, or doubting it was rape, or anything that seems odd to you, don’t express your feelings through your face or humph sounds. Don’t lean back, don’t cross your arms. Just be kind and quiet. You may have to hear her experience over and over again. Just do it knowing you are truly helping.
2. Encourage her to report it to the police! I regret not telling ANYONE of authority. I don’t know much about rape kits but probably the thought of anyone touching her again will be terrifying. Even so, it is extremely important to go report it. Go with her and make sure the police treat her with dignity and respect. I’ve heard bad stories of police being assholes (why???) or not doing kits correctly so just in case, be ready to be with her.
3. Get her to see a rape counselor or call an anonymous hotline as soon as possible, even if she says she’s okay. Encourage her to stick to a counseling program of some sort, even when it makes her go back and face a lot of buried memories and she doesn’t want to. She needs to uncover them and conquer her fear and hatred of them. They shouldn’t be weapons that still hurt anew long after she’s out of range. A lot of professional and or peer resources are free. The USA has a suicide hotline, many universities have free counseling for students. You as a friend mean well, but good intentions are not enough to ‘handle it’- especially if your idea of therapeutic distraction during a panic freak-out relapse is ….watching South Park (husband!). she needs someone to guide her into living in the present, grounding herself, in using coping mechanisms, in making goals and achieving them. I finally went to a counselor after months of telling my husband I needed to, and nearly 3 years after the event: the first session was enough to make me believe I was doing the right thing for me.
3. Don’t compare her rape to others, don’t rank them in your head or aloud (saying things like, yeah it’s bad but at least blah blah didn’t happen to you), don’t marginalize or reduce it. Rape is overwhelming; don’t trivialize it in any way.
4. Don’t you dare talk about her behind her back: this isn’t some story to prove to others how great and genuine a friend you are. This isn’t a ‘hey I know a rape victim! I’m able to converse intelligently on the subject of rapes!’ No. You aren’t. Anything a rape victim says to you is told by a person who lost faith in the goodness of people. Don’t betray her trust in you by regurgitating her tragedy to a pair of greedy ears. Rape is a powerful, evil beast. When you talk about it lightly, casually, commonly, you deny its true nature and you insult its victim. Even the word rape was unspeakable for me for a long time, for some it will always be unspeakable. So don’t talk about it like the weather, or your dog dying, or even that day you got mugged. If you feel you are bearing a heavy emotional burden through listening- you are. It’s nasty stuff to hear and imagine and witness the sometimes debilitating effects. You might need someone to talk to about what you are going through, too. there are a lot of challenges my husband faced when I was recovering. He had to see me at my worst, my most unstable and fearful and angry. It got really bad in our relationship sometimes, and I think part of it was that my husband had no one to talk to. So: Ask her permission before you talk to anyone about her, explain how you feel and why you need support as well. There may be an opportunity to attend some counseling sessions with her (my husband went with me to mine).
5. It is hard, but never forget it happened to her. The continual betrayal I felt was when everyone who said they cared seemed to forget, or assumed I was okay when they saw me smile or be normal. Try to give her and cheer her in as many happy moments as possible, but realize relapses are sudden and will seem unpredictable. Little things can set off panics. She might even suddenly hate you, distrust you, act cold and aloof and want to be alone. This will be so hard, but don’t give up on her. Don’t let her give up on people. Every day, ask her how she is and mean it. Everyday, do something to restore her faith in men and in a better world. Even if this means just a daily hug and the words ‘I’m here for you, how was your day, is there anything you want to talk about with me?’
You know, People believe about anything if you say it ad nauseam. If you love her, make sure you say that every day too, by words and actions. You never know if that was the day she wanted to give up, and your words gave her hope.
6. If you want to say things to make her happy, try to avoid talking about her body :’you’re beautiful, you’re sexy, you look good’. Those are things anyone can say who doesn’t know her. Having a ‘ beautiful’ body didn’t stop the rapist. Mine told me I was beautiful nearly every day. It flattered me and I loved it. I felt rage when my husband said that during our first months together. It made me sick to hear it again. I think any woman’s true strength needs to come from within- her mind and character and willpower. Her triumphs and potential. The body is pretty and young but inevitably ephemeral, it shouldn’t be her greatest asset. It is the physical body which is abused in rape, but what that action does to her mind can become endlessly self-abusive, long after any physical wounds and residual sensations are healed. For me, I had no wounds, my body was soft and yielded and sustained no trauma. But my nightmares and depression, hatred for him and self hate went on and on long after I left the bed, the room, the country, the year. What we who survived rape need to hear is that we are strong for having survived, stronger for starting to rebuild a life, and we are worthwhile as humans and innocent. We aren’t dirty or guilty. We shouldn’t be embarrassed that a crime was committed against us, a heinous crime that tried to cut apart our sense of identity and rights as females. We need to hear that it wasn’t our fault- no, it isn’t obvious when we live in a world that disdains to talk about rape and likes to ask if drink or sexy clothes were involved. Tell us over and over that it isn’t our fault, that we didn’t deserve it, that we are still decent and good people. Help us rebuild our self esteem, help us find ways to become stronger
ADVICE FOR ANYONE TRYING TO HEAL FROM BEING RAPED:
The glory of a good distraction: (advice for people like me or friends)I’m directly addressing this to any woman who needs it, but it’s good for friends to try and encourage.
(….I don’t know if this applies to everyone but it sure as heck helps me: )
Besides consistent counseling and support of friends/family, a person who suffered rape needs distractions. Good, positive, self-esteem building DISTRACTIONS. These don’t solve the rape, they don’t substitute for justice. But they do address the gaping wounds of feeling powerless and stupid or weak. And that is very important to healing.
Woman, Even if you don’t want to ever leave the dusty underside of your bed… Get out and sign on for something that requires your physical and mental presence every day. Please. My suggestion? Learn Anything kick ass! I mean it: do something that pushes your limits because fuck- you’ve been raped. That’s about as horrible an event as could happen to a living normal human being, in which the victim often feels guilty for it happening. Uniquely tolerated crime in our society, eh? But it’s done. It is OVER. and you are still alive, still kicking.. Yeah you’re kicking, not like a horse maybe but I see some leg twitches. You can survive anything now! No one else can suture your wounds, no one can ‘fix’ you. You’ve got to start taking wonderful care of yourself and devoting your energy to YOU and YOUR life. and that body and brain and heart of yours will be the vehicle that takes you to where you deserve to be. So make it work… Believe you can do anything now.
rock climbing- a sport where you go up against some rocks and yourself and that’s it. Every inch upward is a testament to your ability, every failure a mere platform to try again. You can only get stronger.
Brazilian Jiu jitsu, or any martial art that teaches self control and confidence. You learn to master your mind as well as your body- exactly what your soul needs. Put yourself back in charge of your life.
Any long term physical training: Train for some version of a marathon or other long-term race: listen to upbeat, empowering music, log in your activities and be the person who praises you. Look in the mirror when you finish each day and praise you like you should. You don’t have to be the fittest, best looking, fastest, etc. whatever you are doing, don’t compare yourself to anyone around you. This is for you, not anyone else.
Travel! Another great distraction is travel, and you don’t have to go far. Just go where you’ve never been before, and push your comfort level. And you really don’t need that much money to travel. Look at all the young bums out there. Trust me, they aren’t rich. Do something crazy and gung ho and JUST FOR YOUR OWN PLEASURE FUCK ALL ELSE.
Whatever empowers you.. Though, Try to avoid criminal activities
I highly recommend traveling to nature. If you haven’t, read about a man called John Muir and what he says about nature. Sometimes alone in the woods, surrounded by greens and Browns and earthy things, you realize you are equally natural and radiant in that powerful, quiet world that most of us forget we are part of. And in that feeling, you might see a way for yourself to overcome your trials. Bring water and mosquito spray and take off your shoes along the way.
If you have always been someone who cares obsessively about other people’s feelings…. Try going a day without caring about making someone else happy. Just make you happy.
Throw yourself heart and soul and body into anything that makes you feel alive and strong. Go for something that makes you conquer a fear : heights, spiders, staring at people on buses, dancing in public randomly … There’s Cooking, dance class, swimming. Whatever it is- be selfish. Let this be all about how it makes you feel. No one can fix you, heal you, strengthen you the way you must do for yourself. So do whatever it takes. Drop anyone that criticizes you or makes you feel bad. And take one day to Throw out (buuuuurnnnn) anything that makes you feel bad. Oh god it feel so good to burn photos and smash things that remind you of him. Don’t go crazy now, just the bad stuff… Your mothers dishes should remain intact. And once you have burned and smashed, let that be it. Move onward and upward with your life.
…I don’t recommend activities that let your mind wander. For me, it always wandered to the rape. Which defeats the purpose of a healthy distraction. And for Petes sake NEVER listen to sad music for the next 3 years. Just don’t. I don’t know why, but music is just too good at affecting emotions. No angsty poetry or friends or movies either. Drop em.
This is hard: if you want to throw yourself into dating for the sake of it, or casual sex, please DONT. Casual sex is fine if you are a healthy, emotional stable person who can handle that, it is NOT for women who have low self esteem, find sex to be emotional, and/or were sexually abused. If you find yourself doing things that put you at risk of casual sex or dependent on a man in any emotional regard, just avoid those activities. Easy to say, I know. I was so lonely and I did date casually and even though I didn’t intend to, I had sex casually too. I found that drinking helped me enjoy sex (bad sign!) and sometimes I would wake up crying (bad sign!). I told myself it didn’t matter who had my body, I was used up anyway.
WRONG WRONG WRONG! Don’t tell yourself that, it’s wrong! Yes, You will feel lonely and in need of comfort. Do your best to find that comfort in platonic (friends) relationships until you feel stable again. Anyone who cares about you and your healing will NOT push you for sex and will wait for you if there is some blossoming romance. The power of choice needs to be back in your hands, not with alcohol or ‘I don’t care anyway’ but with genuine, sober, happy choice.
Last, but very important: don’t die. I mean it. Don’t let yourself give up. There may be no one in the whole of your world that seems to want you to live, but look past that. There are horizons and sunrises in your life so wide and brilliant you cannot imagine, and you have the power to go to them. This is your life. It is still yours. It always will be yours. No one can take away or cut down your thoughts, your self worth, your essence or soul. Only you have the ability to end all that. Today may be the loneliest and most terrible day since your rape, and you can’t lift your head to imagine any good in the universe to redeem this evil that happened to you. But hold on, hold tight, and wait until the bad passes. It will always pass, in the end, and you’ll have another day to heal stronger. I still have to tell myself this, even now, even last week. It’ll just hit me sometimes that the mere act of being alive is like swimming against a riptide. It takes a lot of mental effort to remind myself:
You ARE the master of your destiny, no matter how bad the things that happen to you are. You have the choice to keep living, to bring yourself to better place.
And then dory the fish starts to sing: just keep swimming just keep swimming…
So to sum up, advice for friends or for rape victims themselves, during the times when they are struggling (if like me, this may be for years):
Go to counseling or call a hotline, don’t keep it in.
No sad music or movies for at least a year or longer.
Take a class that meets often and helps you face a fear, get your adrenaline and joy going again
Get rid of any shit that reminds you of the person that hurt you
Drop any friends or things that don’t treat you well
Do something wonderful (doesn’t have to be grand) that only benefits you, every day: Eg: dinner for one, flowers for yourself, one expensive chocolate, theatre performance for you, run around naked in your house to music, paint, plant something, buy a song and play loudly, etc)
Find someone that listens and cares and ask them to help you a little every day. You might have to spell it out but having one person always there for you is worth the painful, spoon fed request.
Remind yourself of your own worth. Not just your physical worth, but more importantly your mental and emotional worth. Do or read or listen to anything that confirms your worth as a good human who deserves a good life.
Go to the library and check out books on self esteem, recovering from rape etc. try reading ‘seven habits of highly effective people’
Avoid finding comfort in casual sex, drugs, or alcohol. None of those will make you heal. You deserve a feeling of happiness from something real and lasting.
Be outside, the closer to nature the better. Fresh air and smelling flowers is underrated.
Choose to live.
Write about it. Keep a journal and learn to share your experience rather than bury it. Report it if you can. When you have the strength to do so, make it known that rape victims deserve justice, from the rapist as well as society. It’s a cruel crime against us to not be taken seriously when we talk about rape.
…………..Final thoughts today …………….
One thing that I find terrifying is that rape is …..common. Now. In this century of technological progress, democracy, global awareness? It’s sickening to realize that. Rape sounds like a word that only belongs within the well known, almost laughably barbaric threesome: ‘rape, pillage and burn’! A historical, faded picture of brutality and barbarism where no one lived long and there was a thing called ‘blood letting’ to cure all maladies.
But, rape has endured. It happened to me. Maybe it happened to you or someone you know (you probably do know someone, you might not be aware you do). It happens to a lot of women, in every country and culture and religion: first world or third world, rich or poor family, educated or illiterate and everywhere between. Millions and millions of girls and women, boys and anyone vulnerable, over the last thousands of years have suffered like I do, like you do, up until today, in the 21st century!
and me and you? We have that awful, simple connection ‘because I was a woman, my body and rights as a human were abused’. We millions. And each rape is different and terrible and painful, and so many just keep it hidden, like I did. And then the world thinks it must not be so bad. Just listen to how people around you talk about it (or choose not to) when it comes up! We can’t let them keep believing that it is a crime of a sort to be swept under a rug, along with its victims. We have to make others face us and listen. If we can’t shake our society into seeing rape for the evil crime it is, and always was, then what of the girls and women in the next thousand years? Enough! You and I deserve a better world. It seems it is up to us, the potential victims and the already abused, to make it that way.