20 Things Never to Say to a Friend Who Confides in You That They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

This is a guest post by Anahvia Mewborn, which originally appeared at Manifesta. Anahvia is an undergraduate at Harvard College studying applied mathematics. She is a staff writer for Manifesta Magazine, Harvard’s first university-recognized feminist publication, which is entirely student run. Aside from Manifesta, Anahvia is a mentor and activist.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Unfortunately, many people will know or do know someone who’s a survivor of a sexual assault or rape. If you find yourself in the position of confidant, please choose your words carefully. They can make the world of difference. (This list is heteronormative because it’s an account of personal experiences. However, sexual violence is by no means just male-on-female. People of all genders commit sexual violence against people of the same or a different gender.)

1. “Are you sure that happened?”

I know you’re shocked. But asking me if I’m sure if I was assaulted is a HUGE slap in the face. Yes, I know what happened to me. I remember every detail because it plays over and over in my head.

2. “Was he DRUNK?”

The emphasis on the “drunk” part comes off as though you believe there is no way this person could do something like this unless he were under the influence (which still doesn’t make his actions excusable). If you are friends with him, it will be even harder for you to imagine your friend committing an act of sexual violence. If you don’t believe the person is that “type” to do such a thing, don’t let me know you’re skeptical, because that weakens the trust and safety I feel confiding in you.

3. “Tell me EXACTLY what happened.”

I know you’re experiencing some denial that this has happened to someone you know. But you have to understand that it is extremely triggering for someone to recount every detail of a traumatic experience. And when you persist, it seems as though you’re looking for details to “validate” that this was in fact an assault, especially if you know who did this (see #2).

4. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Regardless of how close we are, it’s not easy for someone who’s been through a traumatic experience to bare their soul right away. Just because I didn’t tell you immediately after it happened doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. It’s hard to put words to an incident that I wish had never happened in the first place.

5. “Are you okay now?”

No, I’m not. But, I know you want me to say “yes” so you can stop worrying about me and we can go back to the happy BFFs we were before. Eventually I just give up and say “yes” so you’ll stop asking so many times.

6. “Why are you still upset?”

I didn’t know there was an expiration date on pain, depression, confusion, and the myriad of other emotions I’m experiencing.

7. “How long will it take for you to get better?”

I don’t know how long it will take. Trust me, I’m doing everything I can.

8. “But you look fine.”

Just because I don’t walk around with my head down and an unkempt appearance, and I don’t communicate in grunts instead of English, doesn’t mean I’m not hurting inside. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to mentally take myself to that traumatic place.

9. “Just don’t think about it.”

Because that’s so easy, right? We all know what eventually happens to bottled-up emotions.

10. “You need to be strong.”

Telling me to just be strong is like telling me to lift myself up from my bootstraps.

11. “In X years you won’t really care about this.”

This isn’t some embarrassing fall in the middle of the dining hall. The recovery process is a long and rocky road, and I don’t need anyone, especially a close friend, brushing the incident off as “something that we’ll all laugh about in X years”.

12. “It could’ve been worse.”

Very true. That doesn’t make what happened to me any less severe. That doesn’t mean I’ll say, “Gee, you’re right. What am I even upset about?” The fact that it could’ve been worse doesn’t make me feel better in the slightest.

13. “You can always come to me whenever you need me.”

It’s okay to let me know that you don’t think you’re someone who can provide the support I need, because this is a delicate and traumatic situation to deal with. Suggesting I reach out to a counselor or other resources is perfectly okay. I promise I won’t be offended.

14. “I understand how you feel.”

Yes, you know how it feels to cry, to be hurt, scared, and confused. But unless you have been through a sexual assault or rape yourself, do not tell me you understand how I feel. You and I both know that you don’t, and you saying this makes me more angry than comforted. Being close to a survivor and being a survivor yourself are two completely separate things.

15. “This is about me, too.”

It is never, ever about you. Yes, you’re upset that something awful has happened to me. Yes, you may know the person who hurt me, and now you’re in this position to “choose” between us. Nonetheless, what you’re feeling as the friend of a survivor is no match for what a survivor feels.

16. “You could be fabricating this whole thing.”

Never do so much as to even insinuate that I am or could be lying. I promise you, I’m not faking the depression, the tears, and “I want to kill myself”’s that you see and hear.

17. “This isn’t fair to me to be in this position. I wish you never told me.”

Do you even hear yourself? I know it’s tough to be hit with cold, hard reality. But for you to tell me that it’s not fair for YOU to know what I’ve been through is selfishness and immaturity at its finest.

18. “Why didn’t you ______?”

Never, ever, EVER, ask me why I didn’t act differently. Survivors always blame themselves first for what happened, and the fact that you’re asking me why I didn’t do ____, which may have caused a different chain of events, strengthens the internal blame, guilt, and self-loathing that I’m struggling with.

19. “Does he know how this has affected you? Maybe he’d be sorry if he knew.”

Whether or not he would be “sorry” if he knew how upset I am after the incident, don’t ever try to paint said perpetrator in a sensitive, caring light. That doesn’t mean you need to bash him. But don’t try to reassure me that he’d be eternally remorseful if he knew how hurt I am.

20. “Girls always say ‘no’ because they’re scared. It’s happened before; they eventually give in… It would be beneficial to you to keep this between us.”

This last one doesn’t follow the trend, but was said to me by the guy himself. I didn’t know where to begin: the fact that you just looked me in the eyes and told me this after I found the courage to confront you about the incident afterwards? The fact that you (and countless others) believe it’s okay to force someone against their will to engage in sexual activities because you know they’re “just scared”? The fact that I wasn’t the first one you “strongly encouraged”? Or, the fact that you’re trying to save face by attempting to convince me that it would be beneficial to ME to not tell anyone what YOU did? Out of this entire list, this one had the most impact on me, and I know I’ll remember these words for the rest of my life. Because sexual violence has existed, still exists, and will continue to exist on this earth, please, PLEASE choose your words carefully if you ever find yourself in the position of confidant. When in doubt, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say”. And remember, no matter how upset, confused, frustrated you are, what you’re feeling is NOWHERE near how your friend is feeling. If you know someone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape, do not hesitate to reach out to resources, either for your friend or for yourself. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape, please reach out. I know it’s hard. I know you may feel embarrassed to talk about it. But no matter how alone you feel, please know that you aren’t.


Police 911

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673)

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)

Male Survivor (National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization)

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118 Responses to 20 Things Never to Say to a Friend Who Confides in You That They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

  1. AfterMath says:

    Wow. I can see myself saying some of these things, particularly number 13. I wonder if there’s a similar list of things someone in this position SHOULD say?

  2. Terrific! As counterpoint, what should one say? Thoughts?

    • TMK says:

      The list is about two things, basically:

      1. Doubting and questioning the victim’s experience.
      2. Distancing yourself emotionally from this in a covert way (a lot of the “will be better/could be worse” is about minimizing the event so the talker don’t have to actually deal with suffering person)

      So, basically, do the opposite. Listen and think and/or ask what s/he expects/needs from you. If you don’t feel capable of doing someting, be honest and explicit about it, instead of trying to minimize the event.

      Asking questions is actually okay, if they are open and allow the victim to process the event, so, “how do you feel” is way better than “why did you do that/this”.

    • Li says:

      My first response in conversations like this (because I talk about sexual violence a lot I’ve been an early/first contact point for a few people disclosing their experiences, so this is going to be a little tilted towards that subset of conversation rather than people disclosing in a context that isn’t asking specifically for my time and support) is pretty much to say “I believe you”. If people have been unsure about whether their experiences really qualify as sexual violence (because of internalising victim blaming cultures), I reassure them that their experiences are valid and that they are justified in using “sexual assault” or “rape” (whichever is appropriate) to describe them.

  3. Sta Au says:

    And the one thing to say: here is the rapist’s head. He will trouble you no further.

    • Li says:

      And the one thing to say: here is the rapist’s head. He will trouble you no further.

      No no and no. Vengeance fantasies may be useful for some people, but they should be directed by the survivor, not anyone else. Especially given that threats of violence, even if they’re directed at the perpetrator, can be really triggering to people who have been recently affected by violence themselves.

      You should doubly avoid doing this if you are a man, because *vom*.

      • Amelia the Lurker says:

        I was tempted to say something like this once, but held intuitively held back. You’ve nicely articulated why.

      • Beatrice says:

        Rape makes me very angry. I have been raped several times in my life. You don’t own rape. You only own your experiences and your feelings and your life. I’m not talking vengeance fantasy, I’m talking about being fierce about a horrible violence that is forced on another human being.

        I really don’t know why anyone would go back and try to reason with a rapist–except with a crobar or a gun. Maybe they were trying to understand exactly what happened to them.

        Rape victims need to fight their whole lives against the stupid shame and stupid blame and the courts and the cops and the feelings of guilt from the crappy world we live in. Rape is a great injustice. It should make you very angry for the rest of your life.

    • Angie unduplicated says:

      I’m with Sta Au on this one. I still smile at the memory of five girlfriends of a rape survivor in Daytona who rounded up the rapist and beat him to a pulp. I have small fists, big baseball bat, always available for Volunteer Agents of Karmic Retribution.

    • yes says:

      I’m one of those people who think internet badasses make things like this feel cheap. You, it would seem, are not.

  4. a lawyer says:

    Good post. Will you do a followup on what one should say?

    (and if you do: What’s your opinion on gently pushing victims to make a report, even if they aren’t super inclined to do so? I ask because in my work in the DV area (victims only, BTW) I often run into a catch-22: nobody wants to push DV victims into a report that they don’t want to do…. but delayed reports can often lose a case for a variety of reasons , and there are a lot of victims who, as they realize that a failure to report has really hurt their case, retroactively feel bad about the no-report decision.)

    • White Rabbit says:

      As someone training to help DV survivors, this is something I’ve also wondered about.

      Telling a survivor what do is obviously not okay, but clearly outlining their options and explaining the potential consequences (pros and cons) of each option would enable the survivor in making their own informed decision. Do you already do this and still find that survivors choose to not report and then later regret it?

    • shfree says:

      Well, it isn’t relating to sexual assault, but when I would do informal options counseling for a person facing an unplanned pregnancy and they were really on the fence, but nearing the cut off point between trimesters we did have a script. In a tight nutshell, it would both reaffirm the fact that whether or not they chose to terminate the pregnancy was entirely up them, but that they were at a point where time was of the essence, and it sucked, but hard decisions were needed to be made soon. Then, I would give them all of the resource guides we had available and, if they needed formal counseling, the policy was to refer them to our director. I only ever heard of that happening once the whole time I was there. I know it sounds very, very cold in writing, but it is a lot kinder in person, really, it isn’t all tough love bullshit, but you do have to give them a reminder that a clock, it ticks, if they are debating about whether or not to file charges. And the sooner, the better.

      So basically “I know that you are on the fence about whether or not to file charges, and I will have your back no matter what you decide. But please keep in mind that if you are leaning towards filing, you need to do it sooner than later, and I will go with you to be a support person, if you want me there.” Or something along those lines.

  5. amblingalong says:

    #13 struck me as odd- the fact that it’s OK to tell people you’re not as equipped to help as a counselor or therapist doesn’t mean you should never tell them that you’re always there to listen/believe/support them as well, right?

    • Anon21 says:

      I agree; there’s something to be said for not pressuring someone to rely on you more than they want to, but simply making yourself available… well, I completely accept that this was not a helpful thing for Anahvia to hear, but I don’t think I buy that it’s a general “don’t say this to any survivor.”

      #5 is such a natural reaction, and yet the explanation of why it is unhelpful and basically pressuring the survivor to reassure the questioner makes perfect sense. (In a sense, it’s a politer version of #15.) I haven’t ever been in the position of talking to someone about this specific kind of trauma, but I’ve definitely done the “are you okay?” thing for various kinds of lesser traumas when it’s pretty obvious that the person is not, in fact, okay. I’m going to make a conscious effort to cut it out.

    • Aaliyah says:

      I agree. And while it’s highly unlikely that a supportive friend can help as much as a supportive therapist/counselor, supportive friends can be vital, too (although of course not all survivors are the same).

      • amblingalong says:

        And while it’s highly unlikely that a supportive friend can help as much as a supportive therapist/counselor

        And let’s remember that a) not everyone has access to therapists and counselors and b) not all therapists and counselors are supportive; several of my friends have had awful, awful experiences with the professionals they’ve spoken to, as have I.

        I know for me personally, knowing (and being told) that my friends were there for me has made all the difference in terms of getting through tough things; obviously not everyone reacts this way, and not everyone has the type of relationship where such an offer/statement is appropriate or meaningful, but it just seems like it doesn’t belong on a list of things never to say.

        In fact, it’s the only thing on the list I have said (more than once), and I’m profoundly glad I did.

      • rox says:

        yeah this makes so much sense to me. A group of my friends wrote me a letter all together when I was hospitalized that said “We care about you but, you should deal with this yourself” and one friend gave me a cope of emerson’s self reliance while I was in the mental hospital.

        It’s not like I would have noticed if they just had not come to visit and not said anything at all? It just seemed very unecessary, but I also know they were all had issues they were numbing with pot as heavy pot users and I think it sort of rocked the group for someone to actually fall apart.

        It hit me really hard and I had to do a lot of work to finally realize I really firmly disagree with them, not that I don’t understand they didn’t know how to be there which is one thing and understandable– but the idea that was better for me?

        No way. It would have been way better for me (and I think for many survivors) to have supportive friends/family who will stick it out through the hard stuff. That is definitely better for those who need it.

      • White Rabbit says:

        @rox Oof. I’m so sorry your friends did that. I have lost more than a few friends over the years who reacted similarly to my own struggle with PTSD. It speaks to your own compassion that you are willing to try to understand and forgive their reaction.

      • Alyson says:

        Yeah, as someone who had one friend completely crap out on me after I told her I was raped (she started dating my rapist and said she didn’t believe me, then said I never told her what happened, after which she again claimed to not believe me)…having people who DO support you, even if they can’t do much, helps. My sister and another of our friends listened and believed me and said my rapist was a jackass, that was important. They laughed when I told them my revenge fantasy of reporting my rapist for drunk-driving. It really meant a lot, and even though I’m still very wary about telling people what happened due to my one awful “best friend” (who followed the script of 16+19), at least it was clear that not everyone’s an asshole.

      • Amelia the Lurker says:

        I understood this more as “Don’t say it unless you really mean it, and also don’t pressure the person to make you their sole confidante.”

      • crand says:

        When I was sexually assaulted by a doctor during an employment physical ALL I heard was
        1) you are making it up
        2) it was your fault
        From the employer when I tried four times to report it before they fired and blacklisted me. It took 12 years to get a decent job.
        3) this is what I would have done to prevent it
        From the few women I talked to about it. Because apparently everyone else in the world is totally prepared to meet an emergency and I am some inferior order of person because I wasn’t
        and finally when I tried to contact a rape survivor group
        4) you weren’t actually raped (true, there was no penetration or penis, just hands and filthy language) and it’s an insult to REAL rape victims to compare your trival experience to theirs

        One thing I never heard
        “He had no right to do that.”

        So I shut up.
        It’s been 17 years and I’m still angry.

      • Wordwizard says:

        To Crand: #4. Been there. When I was in the hospital with a smashed knee, using a bed pan because I couldn’t get out of bed, I was molested by a male nurse. He “volunteered” to wipe me when I didn’t need or want it, and wouldn’t take No. I tried to get away from him, but I was trapped in the bed, about to tip over the (full) bedpan, and with nowhere else to go, so he “wiped” me, caressing my genitals. I made an official fuss, and was told he hadn’t molested me, legally, because his finger hadn’t gone INTO my vagina. I asked if he had a record of an unusually high number of incidents of having to change sheets due to bedpan accidents, and he did. I asked if they could call other women who had had him “help” them, to find someone else to corroborate what I’d experienced, and they did! (Apparently, they’d tried before, without luck, but having one woman, me, on record, looking for back-up to prevent future incidents made the difference!) They couldn’t fire him for this, (?!?) but they COULD make sure he had no more woman patients (future liability!), and was assigned bedpan duty (which he had volunteered for, WITH WOMEN–most people hate it–) only with MEN ONLY from then on, which he didn’t like at ALL. He also had a letter placed in his employee file, so he couldn’t just find another unsuspecting employer. I couldn’t take ANY kind of legal action, and neither could the hospital, but giving him only shit work (pun intended!) within his job duties was perfectly legal. The punishment fit the crime! Revenge was sweet, even though the crime itself was marginalized.

    • Li says:

      I do think if you’re going to offer availability you need to follow through though, and the relationship needs to be there in the first place. I’ve had a couple of people say similar things to me when they’ve not really been anywhere near close enough friends that it’s been appropriate, and it’s felt really insincere and that it pushed the process of considering what they’d be able to do to help and what would be beyond their capabilities/comfort one back onto me rather than them actually thinking about it themselves. Like, offering to do everything can sometimes be a bit like offering to do nothing.

      Having said that, when I was assaulted last year by a taxi driver it was totally useful that I had a friend I could call at like 3am to come over and sleep in my bed with me so that I could get through the immediate meltdown, and that’s not something a crisis professional can really offer.

      • Emily says:

        I feel like this response or clarification to #13 “You can always come to me whenever you need me” is very helpful. Thanks.

        I want my friends to know that they can come to me for anything (within my abilities), but at the same time, no, I’m not a therapist. I hadn’t considered it like to be like offering to do nothing, so I’m going try to think of more concrete things to offer or a better way to phrase what I mean, and not just in the scenario of a friend’s assault. I can think of two times recently when I said something similar out of the best intentions, and I really hope it didn’t sound so empty.

    • TMK says:

      13. is there because in this situation “i actually already am here”. I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like the person saying that doesn’t grasp that i am here and need help at the moment and not in some theoretical future situation, so in the end it is again distancing and feels dishonest.

      There are actually circumstances where you can even ask question about “why did you do that”, for example if the conversation is at the stage at which the victim analyzes her actions and tries to understand what happened to him/her (i have more trouble imagining when it’d be okay to ask “why didn’t you do that”, because it’s actually driving the victim away from his/her train of though away to your preconceptions).

      And of course it all requires trust in first place.

      • Li says:

        13. is there because in this situation “i actually already am here”. I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like the person saying that doesn’t grasp that i am here and need help at the moment and not in some theoretical future situation, so in the end it is again distancing and feels dishonest.

        I totally understand that. I think I prefer phrasings like: “What do you need?”, and for people to put some thought into the things they might be able to offer in future (getting contacts for counsellors/crisis lines, being a vent point, being willing to just hang out, drive people places etc).

      • Angie unduplicated says:

        Phrasing: “What can I do to help you?” “Don’t be hesitant to call on me”.

    • Well, I’ve never been raped (though I’ve been sexually assaulted? Memories are blanked out extremely hard, though I had an epic meltdown on chat with Val after, so I’m going to go with the internet records being right on it), but speaking to this point from a disability perspective, I find concrete offers probably would make more sense than a blanket “now speak to me of your heartache, supplicant!” (which this is almost never intended to be, but kind of sounds like, particularly when the listener is upset and freaked out).

      Translating from that, something like “If you need a [action, physical help] or something, or someone to [emotional presence/support], I will do what I can without [possibly unhelpful emotion/behaviour]”. In my case, it would be “If you need any furniture moved or vegetables cut, do call me and I’ll do it, no sweat”. Etc, etc.

      • Oh! Yes! Important thing I forgot! Please, please don’t volunteer things you know you can’t do! Seriously, I promise, the victim will usually understand “I can’t drive four hours to get you, but I will gladly call you every day and talk about TV/life/your trauma/anything you want” that is followed up on better than “I’ll be there the second you say so” that never materialises.

      • Anony-Mouse says:

        I know my first instinct for friends who are going through something tough or life-altering (whether it’s a bad breakup, a new baby, moving, a sick pet, or anything else) is to say something along the lines of: ‘Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need something, I’m happy to help in any way I’m able to.’ And I make sure that I follow through if they do need something.

    • Wordwizard says:

      13. “You can always come to me whenever you need me.” is something I personally would WANT to hear, because no paid counselor, however skilled, is the same as an unpaid friend. Or neighbor. Not that counselors are not valuable, but a friend who will always be there for you + is not going to get tired of your neediness, or a neighbor whose door you can knock on at any hour when you are trying to get AWAY from a rapist (+some people LIVE with their rapist!) is beyond price.

    • rox says:

      I think it is true that when people say this they don’t understand the depth of the need. Like if I’m crying every day do you REALLY want to be there every time I have a needs related to this? So I do think it’s helpful to think through what kind of support you realistically can offer… some people REALLY CAN hangout and listen to intense crying and hold someone while they have deep and difficult emotions and are willing to be there, even if not ALL THE TIME… on a fairly regular basis. I.E there are some people who would literally come stay with a friend for a few weeks to be a rock during a crisis….

      I think the main thing is that a lot of people have no idea just how much pain, and for such a long time, we are talking about. And sometimes a survivor could really use someone to remind them to laugh and not HAVE to talk about it (while knowing the sympathy would be there if they needed to cry or talk about the hard stuff).

      I lost all my friends while going through severe PTSD and I wish they had had better support in terms of knowing how to be supportive because they were all… in theory… people who wanted to be supportive people. The truth is seeing someone else going through trauma can be pretty traumatic itself and a lot of people really can’t handle being near it, and it might bring up personal issues for them regarding their own inner pains they are avoiding as well.

      I too have tried to taper my innate desire to be there for people in really big ways because it does get confusing who is going to be responsable for what and when the “crisis” is over and the intense support is going to stop…

      As I’m a mom now I have my hands full and I can’t do this kind of support for people so I would never say something like “I’ll be there any time you need” because it’s really not true.

      I like this conversation because I think being a good friend is something we can all work on and isn’t at all as simple as just having good intentions. Creating mutually supportive friendships can be very hard and throwing trauma issues in the mix, it’s very hard for survivors. I like the idea that non-survivors might learn a little more about that so that survivors aren’t just carrying the entire weight of how difficult their experience of trying to make or keep friends while have trauma symptoms or living through the aftermath of assault/abuse is.

      I liked that Katy Perry started crying and Cyndy Lauper said she’d been crying all week. I hate celebrity gossip but that little tidbit made me teary. You cry ladies, you cry! What the shit who cares! We should all learn how to break down and how to hold anothers hand while they fall apart and build themselves back up. Crying when you get seen and loved can be really healing and strengthening, whereas crying alone (when you feel you need support) can just feel overwhelming.

      I feel like therapy can NOT replace close friends/family holding you and listening to you when you cry. Sharing of emotions, even the deeper ones, with people who LOVE you can be much more meaningful that anything you can recieve in therapy. However, therapy can be really useful to help build stability, get extra support with the heaviest emotional burdens so your friends/family don’t have to carry all of it, and making sense of it with someone trained to know the right things to say and to provide guidance. Both are useful and different things. I think sometimes people think survivors need to not ever share their feelings of pain outside of therapy because that’s what therapy is for, but yet, most people share their pain and deepest emotions with friends- they just don’t have the same kinds of traumas to share. It can become a wall where is seems like other people get to have full open expression because their emotions and even their pains are “acceptable” but survivors are supposed to stay boxed up and protect people around them for the messy horror of what the emotions they can go through. It makes you feel like even your “friends” are not people who really understand you or are close to you anymore. Like there’s really no one you can actually be yourself around.

      I think stoicism has it’s merits but I also think a lot of us are capable of being there for people more than we do and it’s just culturally ingrained that we shouldn’t have to and some therapist should take care of it.

      • Molly says:

        Thanks so much for this:

        “It can become a wall where is seems like other people get to have full open expression because their emotions and even their pains are “acceptable” but survivors are supposed to stay boxed up and protect people around them for the messy horror of what the emotions they can go through.”

        Also, re: this whole conversation, Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery is a lifeline. We live in a trauma and violence-denying world.

        “When the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

      • White Rabbit says:

        I would also like to say “thank you!” and second Molly’s book recommendation.

        I like the idea that non-survivors might learn a little more about that so that survivors aren’t just carrying the entire weight of how difficult their experience of trying to make or keep friends while have trauma symptoms or living through the aftermath of assault/abuse is.


        I think stoicism has it’s merits but I also think a lot of us are capable of being there for people more than we do and it’s just culturally ingrained that we shouldn’t have to and some therapist should take care of it.

        I’ve crashed into this mindset, and it is incredibly jarring and hurtful. Where does this come from? I feel like I may be missing some obvious cultural source for this mindset. I and most of my close friends are adamant about being there for our friends in times of need, no matter how tough and uncomfortable it may get, but my former BFF totally pulled this on me, and it prompted the unraveling of our 15+ year friendship.

      • Kerandria says:

        “It can become a wall where is seems like other people get to have full open expression because their emotions and even their pains are “acceptable” but survivors are supposed to stay boxed up and protect people around them for the messy horror of what the emotions they can go through.”

        Seconding thank you for this. It took me a very long time to learn what that feeling of resentment/latent rage towards friends and acquaintances was.

      • Krissy says:

        I have spent most of my life alone in rooms because I can’t be around people and not talk about what has happened to me and people really don’t want to know about the kind of stuff that has happened to me. I got married and had kids. That is the only family I will ever have. I can’t talk about my past with my kids–it would be wildly inappropriate.

        I very much feel like other people get to have relationships and experience love but I am too broken. I break other people just by telling them about my life.

        Thanks for this comment.

        “I think sometimes people think survivors need to not ever share their feelings of pain outside of therapy because that’s what therapy is for, but yet, most people share their pain and deepest emotions with friends- they just don’t have the same kinds of traumas to share. It can become a wall where is seems like other people get to have full open expression because their emotions and even their pains are “acceptable” but survivors are supposed to stay boxed up and protect people around them for the messy horror of what the emotions they can go through. It makes you feel like even your “friends” are not people who really understand you or are close to you anymore. Like there’s really no one you can actually be yourself around.

        I think stoicism has it’s merits but I also think a lot of us are capable of being there for people more than we do and it’s just culturally ingrained that we shouldn’t have to and some therapist should take care of it.”

      • Wordwizard says:


        I feel for you. I wish I could do more than just type a few easy words to you….I just hope that what might be “wildly inappropriate” to talk to young kids about will not remain a wall between you and them as they grow older, more able to hear adult things, and more eager to learn about who this woman their mother really is.

    • Jenna says:

      A question like “What do you need?” or an actual specific offer of help rather than a vague whenever/whatever is better. Offers of help are good, but, they need to be useful, concrete things with follow through. Vague whenever/whatever stuff tends to be forgotten or not followed up on.

    • Fat Steve says:

      #13 struck me as odd- the fact that it’s OK to tell people you’re not as equipped to help as a counselor or therapist doesn’t mean you should never tell them that you’re always there to listen/believe/support them as well, right?

      Surely the fact that it struck you as odd is an ideal reason for it being on the list, as it is based on the OP’s experience. The comment clearly did not work for her, and therefore is worth thinking about how it could be phrased differently.

  6. LB says:

    It’s sad how accurate this list is — I’ve watched friends deal with having all of these things said to them, and it is devastating.

    The best lesson I ever learned from those around me who’ve had these conversations is this: You are speaking with someone whose choices and boundaries about her own body have been deliberately and maliciously ignored. It is your job in that conversation to avoid doing the same thing to her words, her consciousness, and her understanding of her own experience. If ever a conversation were NOT ABOUT YOU, this would be it.

  7. moorepark says:

    I realize this may be kind of impossible to answer but, what exactly do you WANT a confidant to say when you tell them? I have a friend who was assaulted by a stranger VERY recently. She wants to hang out to day and it will be the first time we’ve “hung out” since she said anything and I’m kind left thinking to myself “ok I clearly shouldn’t resent the fact that she told me but… why DID she tell me?”

    A few months back I had another friend recently confide in me about an assault that happened to her several years ago by her partner at the time and in both situations all I could come up with was “well that’s horrible, but I have faith in you, even if you don’t” and then kinda sat there afraid to say anything else for fear of triggering something.

    • megara says:

      For the first friend, maybe you could say– “you told me about what happened and I wanted to say that if you want to talk about it some more, or if there is another way I could help you with this, I am happy to. If you don’t want to talk about it, and just hang out, that’s fine too.”

      Also, if you are worried you said/did something you shouldn’t have, I would broach that. [e.g. I am really sorry that I [did/said xyz]. Looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have done that]. STOP. do not make excuses or try to explain why you did what you did.

      For the second friend, if she’s already talking about it herself, it is unlikely that what you say would trigger anything, unless you engage in one of the “don’ts” above. Like what I just said for friend #1, offer to talk, ask her how you can be supportive, express regret if you were wrong in the past, and leave it up to her. Don’t try to force her to do anything like talk about it, call the police, leave him, etc.

      • moorepark says:

        Yea the 2nd friend has pretty much dealt with whatever post event experience was, I’m just really curious why she chose to tell me at all since she clearly does not want to report it or do anything to the offender.

        as for the more recent issue, I guess its just harder for me to wrap my fingers around because our relationship was so full of crass jokes and very un feminist sexual humor. I’m not saying that I resent her in any way Its just awkward with her trying to engage with me in much the same way verbally and having NO idea where the new “landmines” are if that makes sense.

      • White Rabbit says:

        I’m just really curious why she chose to tell me at all since she clearly does not want to report it or do anything to the offender.

        Because friends care about each other and sometimes confide in each other about upsetting things that have happened to them in the past?? Because sometimes just telling a trusted friend about a past traumatic experience makes one feel less alone and alienated? Because… any number of other reasons friends share their highs and lows with each other?

        I have a fair amount of trauma in my past, and if my friends thought it was only legit for me to talk about it in the context of pressing charges or taking other definitive action in present time, they wouldn’t be my friends for very long. I don’t think basic empathy and compassion is too much to ask of a friend.

      • Dunno what your situation is, but everything White Rabbit said. Also, I’ve disclosed to some people simply because they know my abuser and I didn’t want him getting to them. So, you know, if this friend’s abuser is known to both of you, she might have been warning you about them.

        If you’re worried about what new landmines might be happening with friend #1 – ask her. No, seriously, just do that. With any luck, she’ll be able to explain clearly what new boundaries there are (if any – not all victims want to shy away from sexual stuff, she might just be completely comfortable with you still) and you’ll have a decent idea what stands a very good chance of triggering her. There’s still the possibility of accidental triggers, no matter how completely she explains, so don’t take any sort of list from her as an excuse to get huffy if she gets bothered by something that she didn’t think to tell you about.

      • moorepark says:

        well, I did hang out with her today like she wanted, I tried to be as “normal” as things were before the incident but got called out within the first hour or so for “sounding like I was walking on eggshells”. I didn’t know what else to do so I was honest and told her I was pretty much, and she kinda flew off the handle at me about how she “still wanted to experience the un-censored version” of me, etc etc…

        shortly after we go to an outdoor shopping center and she complains about her net hurting so i reach for it to rub the base of her neck (very common practice between us) and she SHRIEKS! loudly!

        I ended up having to wait for her to go to the car while security sat with me to “give her space”, then walked me to the parking lot, (probably doesn’t help I’m a big black dude and shes a white beanpole). Soon as I get in the car? she asks me to rub her neck again and shes fine this time.

        I hear on victim forums all the time how they consider people treating them different due to their incidents is a form of victim blaming but I don’t feel safe going out with her as things are. I feel like at any moment she could freak out and snap and Id immediately deal with being the bad guy .

      • amblingalong says:

        This is really hard. You obviously care a lot about being a good friend, but you’re in a position where the depth of your friend’s trauma is putting you in legitimate danger (and coming from someone who’s been assaulted simply for walking with a white woman, yes, this is dangerous). I think it’s really important to talk to your friend about what happened, while being careful to avoid blaming her or being accusatory. If she’s not capable of having that conversation, it’s entirely valid for you to protect yourself by setting some boundaries (for example, not being willing to make physical contact in public since she doesn’t know if it will be triggering).

        I think your friend is lucky to have someone trying as hard as you, and I wish you both the best.

  8. megara says:

    What one should do:

    1. Listen more than talk. [Notice that this is the first thing on the list.]
    2. Say “I am so sorry this happened to you.”
    3. If the situation calls for it, ask “are you safe right now?”
    4. Ask what you can do to help or support them.
    5. If others have blamed them or they blame themselves, or they or others have focused on one of their actions as causing or negating the assault (e.g., they didn’t fight him off, they didn’t scream) say “it’s not your fault. No matter what the circumstances, the rapist chose to do this to you.”
    6. If others have reacted poorly (e.g., blamed her, questions whether it was ‘really’ an assault, asked her what she did to bring it on, etc.), say, “I’m sorry they did that. They should not have [said/did] that.
    7. If appropriate (e.g., others have not believed him/her), say “I believe you.”
    8. Let them know that it is ok to express their emotions (whether that be sadness, anger, etc.).
    9. It is ok to express your emotions (I’m sad this happened, I’m angry at the rapist), as long as you don’t make it about YOU, and they feel the need to take care of you emotionally.
    9. If appropriate, reassure them that they can tell you as much or as little as they want to. If they want to tell you let them, but don’t ask for details about the rape or their behavior before/after the assault.
    10. If appropriate, reassure them that you are not mad/disappointed/etc. at them; acknowledge that it might have been difficult to tell you.
    11. If appropriate, reassure them you will keep this confidential.
    12. If appropriate, reassure them that they are not blowing this out of proportion, what the rapist did was wrong, etc.
    13. If appropriate, reassure them that there is no right or wrong or normal way to react to being sexually assaulted. People’s emotional reactions vary, and whatever they are feeling is not “abnormal.”
    14. If appropriate, tell them you love them. Tell them you are there for them if they want to talk about it again.
    15. If appropriate, ask them if there’s anyone they would like you to help them tell (e.g., if your sister is saying she wants to tell your parents, but she is afraid to)
    16. If you know what you are talking about, offer to discuss legal options with them. In response to @alwayer, I would let people know that they have the option to report now or later, and they can choose to report later, but unfortunately cases that are reported sooner rather than later have a better chance of ending in a conviction. On the other hand, even cases that get reported right away are not a sure thing. Leave the choice up to them. Offer to accompany them to the police if they choose to report.
    17. If you know what you are talking about, offer to discuss options regarding medical treatment and getting a forensic exam. Leave the choice up to them. Offer to accompany them if they want you to.
    18. Offer to look up the local rape crisis center and services they provide. If you don’t know what you are taking about re: medical/forensic and legal options, let them know that the rape crisis center can discuss those with them.
    19. Do not force them to do anything (e.g., report, get a medical forensic exam, get counseling). Respect their choices regarding what they do/do not want from you.
    20. Do not tell anyone else without their explicit permission unless they are in explicit danger of physically harming themselves.
    21. Listen more than talk. Empathize with them, and make it about them, not you.

  9. Scott Cunningham says:

    My interactions with psychologists and doctors since disclosing have been a lot of the above numbers, with an emphasis on 1, 3 and 6. And I had to really put my foot down to get the words “sexual assault” even included in the documentation of what I disclosed, instead of “traumatic event” euphemisms that felt like erasure.

    Honestly, blog comment sections have been a much better community than professionals. (Thanks!) I’ve been procrastinating making a phone call to set up professional counseling, partly because things have settled back down again, mostly because I have little trust left for the local professionals.

    Also when the crisis center calls me, they’ve always hung up as soon as they hear a man. Men are the cause of so much grief they see every day, so I can understand if they can’t deal with me.

    I do wish my campus doctor would stop dismissing the sexual assaults entirely and insisting my unhappiness has to be entirely a pre-existing condition I must’ve been born with and pushing SSRI pills my way, though.

    Anyway, venting session over.

    • megara says:

      I am really sorry you have had a bad experience with the professionals you have worked with. They should have done better by you.

    • Molly says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been mistreated by therapists too, really badly, in my attempt to come to terms with my experience of sexual assault. I know how hard it is to reach out to a therapist after that. I have a great one now, though, who has extensive experience working with victims of sexual violence and with trauma. Definitely ask about that when searching for one. This has actually helped me not only finally deal with the assault, but also to respond to the therapists who mistreated me. Looking for therapists who are involved with Male Survivor groups is a good start.

    • PrettyAmiable says:

      Also when the crisis center calls me, they’ve always hung up as soon as they hear a man. Men are the cause of so much grief they see every day, so I can understand if they can’t deal with me.

      I can’t. I’m sorry you’ve dealt with this.

    • Natalie says:

      Thanks so much for coming forward with this. My boyfriend and I are both rape survivors. It’s easy for people to believe me — I don’t even come across the usual slut-shaming because I was only a child when it happened to me. Unfortunately for him, the circumstances of his attacks usually result in more doubt, especially because he’s male.
      I feel very proud that he feels safe talking to me about it. Maybe what I’ve gone through has helped me to be more understanding and less judgmental about these things. So, so many people abandoned him when they found out. I feel honored to be here for him. He’s so strong and he’s fought so hard. It’s never over, not for either of us, but we’re better together.
      I know how many horrible situations you must go through, and I’m so sorry that your experience with professionals hasn’t been effective. I’m lucky in that, too. In any case, I hope the people you’ve been able to talk with continue to be as good and kind as they have been.

    • Li says:

      I do wish my campus doctor would stop dismissing the sexual assaults entirely and insisting my unhappiness has to be entirely a pre-existing condition I must’ve been born with and pushing SSRI pills my way, though.

      The first campus counselor (in fact, counselor in general) i saw after being sexually assaulted for the first time spent our entire session telling me that I must have been stressed out because the relationship I was in at the time was non-monogamous, despite me just then having told her about being assaulted. She was also incredulous that I had been assaulted as a man, assumed I was straight and told me that I just needed to “pick [myself] back up again”. It was pretty much god-awful enough that I didn’t see another counselor for a year.

  10. Alexandra says:

    Let me add one that I have received from not one but two professionals (a female counselor and a male psychologist):

    “Are you sure you didn’t actually enjoy it?”

    • Molly says:

      That is so horrible. I had a therapist who minimized my experience and blamed me for my suffering. She actually said, “It’s not something we like to think about.”

    • What in fucking fuck!!!!

    • Aaliyah says:

      Those people should be fired. Holy shit that’s awful.

    • rox says:

      Ugh!!! The first therapist I told I had been raped and abused (because I was dissociating and in the mental hospital!) said, “Well why did you stay? It sounds like you have drama personality”

      It was a horrible first experience with getting professional help and the second therapist I worked with was doing that Byron Katie stuff where you turn it around and say you were abusing your abuser and “take responsibility for your part in the abuse”

      There are a LOT of horrible therapists in the world and it’s a shame licensure doesn’t actually ensure people are competent to provide the right kind of support to survivors. Evidence based therapy is not actually all that evidence based especially when you consider there are many different measurements of what therapy is supposed to do and what a “good outcome” is supposed to be. Some emphasize client success at life goals and forward thinking and positivity and self efficacy as “success” so the goal is to talk about how the survivor fucked up by engaging with bad people, how they did it all wrong so they can stop being bad victims in the future. It’s not a bad goal to help people not get abused, but I think sometimes the method used to knock survivors into needing love and support less (which is often what guides us into abuse) can do more harm than good.

      Anyway, yeah, therapy… can do more harm than good for sure! Hard to find the good ones but there are out there. The counselor I was just seeing I was like “I don’t want you to do anything but listen and be empathetic. I’ve had to many therapists that sit around telling me to be better at life and I would really like to just be accepted as I am since this is as good as I can do right now and I know EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW about how many things I could/should be doing better everyday but it is NOT HELPFUL to badger me with this shit!” sort of like that and she was way more helpful than what I had before.

      • Alexandra says:

        What is particularly sad is that the male psychologist (who I suppose I am technically still seeing, though I haven’t seen him in months now) was truly excellent in working with me through depression, anxiety, and other issues. In his area of competency, he did very well; and in fact it is a testament to his skill that I got to the point where I wanted to delve into stuff from years back. For what it’s worth, he apologized when I set him straight, but I haven’t felt able to go back to him since, which is a real pity.

      • White Rabbit says:

        Argh!!! What the heck is “drama personality”?! That’s not even a real diagnosis.

        This reminds me of the psychiatrist I went to in an effort to supplement my work ongoing with my therapist (licensed social worker). I have chronic complex PTSD from severe childhood trauma, and I was in an abusive relationship at the time (that I didn’t yet recognize as abusive). During our *second* session, as I started to tell her about a recent episode of abuse, she abruptly interrupted me to accuse me of being “addicted to drama.” o.O It took several sessions with my regular therapist to help me process that and stop fretting that I was, indeed, causing all of my own problems. In retrospect, there were many things about the things she said, and her mannerisms, that seemed designed to be invalidating. I shudder when I think about how she treats her other patients.

    • White Rabbit says:

      WT-ever-loving-F?!? Ugh!!

      I can’t even. The more stories like this I hear, the more I wish there was some way to report these people and hold them accountable. :(

      • Scott Cunningham says:

        Seconded. This is ridiculous. There’s no excuse for this from therapists. Don’t they have professional bodies somewhere?

        I know where I live, though, a lot of them are barely-trained voluntold workers. Again, that should not be true. Part of why other survivors in the comments rock so much more than them.

  11. Molly says:

    Here is what I want you to do when I tell you that men sexually assaulted me:

    1.) Believe me.
    2.) Empathize with me.
    3.) Encourage me to talk about it, and let me know you’re a safe person to talk about it with. You can do this by acknowledging how hard it is for me to speak about it.

    That’s pretty much it. Also, don’t tell me, “You’re so strong.” I look strong because I’m dissociating, which is a symptom of my PTSD. I wish I could cry and be vulnerable.

    • Angie unduplicated says:

      Yes. Yes. And no, we’re not “chronic victims” because we had childhood abuse and occasional abuse as adults. We’re people who may have been targeted by abusers. We don’t teach people to abuse, and we don’t give permission.
      Given the responses that many of you had in therapy and that some of my acquaintances echoed, stoicism and silence looks like a sane and reasonable option. I can cry and be vulnerable, but in solitude, for excellent reasons.

  12. Arya says:

    What do you do if you really don’t know what to say or how to act? Should you just be quiet and listen? I wouldn’t want to unintentionally say or do anything that would be harmful to the survivor.

    • Wordwizard says:

      Use the technique of Reflective Listening, which is a skill you can learn. Basically, LISTEN, then reflect back what you think you heard, to make sure you got it right. (You can do it as a question, if you’re not sure.) Identify feelings (It sounds as if you feel ___.). If you make a mistake, the other person won’t be upset, they’ll just set you straight, i.e., No, I meant this, not that, or, I feel angry, not ashamed. It’s important when you are doing this, NOT to leap in with “You should do X, or Y.” It’s a useful skill in many circumstances.

      • That can be tricky – not everyone wants to hear their words translated back at them, and it takes some skill not to sound patronising doing it. I know I hate that sort of listening. It puts me into “that’s what I just said!” mode. YMMV, obviously.

      • Miranda says:

        I just wanted to jump in here to agree with The Kitteh. I’m not sure, but I think the peer counselors at my uni are trained to do this. Maybe some people like this style of listening, or maybe the peer counselors are really terrible at attempting to use the technique, but personally I COULD NOT STAND IT. It always came across as patronizing and automated.

      • Wordwizard says:

        When I was learning how to do this, I got rides w/another person learning the same thing. He told the teachers I was really great to talk to, in the car. I said, I was just practicing what we were learning. He went, WHAT?!? After that, he wouldn’t talk to me. It works just fine if you don’t notice. It’s the best way to LISTEN and NOT INTRUDE YOUR OWN MESSAGE. There’s nothing wrong with checking to make sure you understand correctly! You can also just go uh-huh! A person who is upset from being raped is not likely to be so ultra-critical.

      • Miranda says:

        Seriously, Wordwizard, I don’t want to get in a flame war over this, but I am more than a little bit irritated by your attitude of “well you’re just being ultra-critical” and your blithe willingness to completely ignore what Kitteh and I just said.

        FYI, I have had experiences with a bunch of people using that technique, some of whom were using it after I was detailing serious traumas in my life, including an assault. For the most part, I found it patronizing and automated. Perhaps it works for some people or even most people, but you can’t give it as a rule. We are all different, and nothing substitutes for empathy and willingness to appreciate someone’s individuality and unique temperament and experiences. Also, I can say that right now you are not doing a good job at listening to what I am saying…

      • Wordwizard says:

        Arya asked a question; I gave the best answer I knew; The Kitteh + you said it makes you vomit; I replied it doesn’t make people vomit who don’t NOTICE it’s a technique to LISTEN, not intrude. I wasn’t TRYing to reflect YOUR message, but reply to it. I wasn’t trying to start a flame war (unfamiliar term?) either, but just how do I reply to “YMMV” “I agree” in a friendly, compassionate, blah manner that will satisfy you?

      • Miranda says:

        I think I’m mostly bothered by the fact that we both claimed we didn’t like it, and you jumped in and said “Yes but people like it as long as they don’t notice it.” You know, playing into the trope that “I know better than survivors/women” and all that? That’s not been my experience, and it feels very invalidating for you to continue to continue to insist that you are right, unconditionally. I would even have been satisfied if you amended your position to “usually it works” or “it has always worked in my experience,” instead of setting yourself up as the grand poobah of how to talk to people in difficult situations by saying, “It always works unless you do it wrong.” Perhaps this is not when you meant, but that is how it came across to me. I snarked about you not listening well precisely because you have now set yourself up as an authority on this subject, and you don’t seem to understand why I feel insulted by this.

        And you still haven’t addressed the fact that you implied I was being “ultra-critical,” and that rape survivors would not be so “ultra-critical,” even though I am one.

      • TMK says:

        What matters here (and in the examples downthread about “are you ok” being ok or not) is the perceived intent and honesty.

        These things are judged on non-verbal level, and that explains why some people like “are you ok” and some not – because they (we) are not speaking about the same thing. I would be angry and disappointed if someone asked me if i am okay, in the sense i got from the OP, but i can easily imagine someone asking it in a different way i would be cool with.

        Still, after getting the same question (technically not bad) in a covertly dismissive way, one might get trigger happy at interpreting it as a dismissive no matter the actual intent, so there is that.

        Going back to the above example, the incident in the care is easy to explain. The conversation partner though s/he was being listened to, honestly, only to be told that it was just a practice and the other person didn’t really care about what s/he was said to. That’s deceit, betrayal (i’m not judging the poster here, just describing the perception of the other person), and obviously it’s not going to be conductive to future conversations.

        Thus whether reflective listening technique works depend if it’s THE technique or just a style that doesn’t consume all attention of the listener so there’s none left for the actual content. And, more importantly, how the talker perceives it.

      • Wordwizard says:

        To TMK: I WAS listening honestly, because I cared–That’s why we were both learning this technique, because we wanted to become part of a suicide-prevention hotline that uses it, and were convinced it was the best thing we could offer, to listen and not intrude our own “This is what *I* know *you* should do” solutions. It was not a betrayal. I was interested in the other person, and hurt that he took it the way he did.
        To Miranda: I never said any of the things you put into my mouth, that I was an expert, or know better than women who have been raped or it-always-works, etc. The whole point of reflective listening is that the person being listened to knows best what is right for her/him, not you, , that wanting to give your own perfect solutions that you know are right is a delusion that gets in the way of really listening to what is being said, and being there for them. The technique doesn’t get in the way of really listening, it DEMANDS that you listen and make sure you understand correctly, rather than being wrapped up in what YOU want to say to them in the way of advice as soon as they shut up and let you get a word in edgewise. It isn’t patronizing to keep the focus on THEM, not your own wonderful ideas. Anya specifically asked:
        ” What do you do if you really don’t know what to say or how to act? Should you just be quiet and listen? I wouldn’t want to unintentionally say or do anything that would be harmful to the survivor.”
        Reflective Listening is a technique to insure that you JUST listen, and DON’T say or do anything that would be harmful, in a nutshell. If you don’t know what to say or how to act, you could do far worse than to learn this technique.
        As for being super-critical, I was referring to the reactions of people who are “aware” that someone is using the technique and resentful, when they wouldn’t be otherwise. A person who is actively upset by something that has just happened (or that feels that way inside, regardless of the lapse of time) is probably (?) not going to be analyzing your response as “just” a Technique and “therefore” Patronizing, when they are pouring out their soul and looking to be understood. Before you dismiss this technique, bear in mind that to the best of my belief, ALL suicide-prevention hotlines use it, and it has saved many lives.

      • TMK says:

        Sorry for jumping to conclusions. I went all the way into explaining behavior of someone i don’t know in situation i only read about, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it was completely off the mark…

        (btw, it’s not very clear, but i meant the perception of honesty, from his perspective, not your actual intent)


        He went, WHAT?!? After that, he wouldn’t talk to me.

        why didn’t he want to talk to you afterwards?

      • Wordwizard says:

        TMK: Thanks for the apology. As for “why?” you’d have to ask him. It’s useless to speculate after all this time. He wasn’t very open with people before that.

  13. TomSims says:

    Nice post. I’ve never known any woman who was raped or at least that I am aware of. If I was ever in that position, I would tend to listen to what was said and simply ask if there was anything I could do.

    • Natalie says:

      I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad tidings, but 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. 1 in 6 men. Do you know more than three women, more than 6 men? Chances are, you do know someone who has been raped or molested. It’s hard to hear, I know, but seeing that you’re here, reading about how to be a supportive friend, is really, really wonderful. Staying informed is the first step.

      • TomSims says:

        @Natalie; Thanks for your info but according to RAINN it goes like this

        1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).1

        17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.1

        9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.

        About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.1

      • Buttered Lilies says:

        Ok, how does that change Natalie’s point? You probably know at least 6 women, and at least one of them has probably been raped. Just because no one’s told you they’ve been raped doesn’t mean they haven’t; it’s not the sort of thing you exchange alongside what you do for a living and how many kids (if any) you have.

      • amblingalong says:

        You probably know at least 6 women, and at least one of them has probably been raped.

        I think you missed the point of the stat; about 1 in 50women has been raped, and about 1 in 6 been the victim of attempted rape.

        Tom also was pretty careful to say he didn’t know someone who’d been raped

        at least that I am aware of.

        Not sure what this kerfluffle is about.

      • EG says:

        You’re mistaken, amblingalong. The stats are the reverse. 14.8% of women have been the victim of completed rapes, and 2.8% have been the victim of attempted rapes.

      • amblingalong says:

        You’re mistaken, amblingalong. The stats are the reverse. 14.8% of women have been the victim of completed rapes, and 2.8% have been the victim of attempted rapes.

        That makes more sense- thanks for catching my error.

      • Wordwizard says:

        No one KNOWS what the real statistics are, because of under-reporting. If you know a woman who has said “Stop that” to someone who didn’t stop–trying to kiss them, hug them, whatever, THAT was the beginning of an attempted rape. Not everyone even perceives “just a horny guy who wouldn’t listen” as a would-be rapist. “Don’t women always say No first?” Not everyone sees themselves as a victim of a rape attempt. There isn’t a law addressing the situation. You know PLENTY of women who’ve been in that situation, trust me.

  14. Victoria says:

    Please never say “but you know, [this person] has it much worse.” Even if it is true that their assault was more painful/traumatic, that doesn’t give you grounds to dismiss what someone is telling you.

    [Trigger Warning:Sexual harassment, Sexual Assault]
    I was sexually harassed daily in what was probably the textbook definition of an extremely hostile environment and sexually assaulted twice in said environment, as a direct consequence of the culture that normalized harassment. A “friend” once commented that another friend clearly had it worse then I did because my abuser once made a public comment about her cleavage. Yes, it was awful and shitty of him to do so, but the two don’t even compare.

  15. DAS says:

    I have had two occasions where a friend has confided in me that she had been sexually assaulted in the past. I am very glad to know that I didn’t say any of the wrong things. Perhaps it is because even though I normally am one of those obnoxious people who will talk you to death, make everything about me and otherwise pontificate about anything, when push comes to shove, I tend to become speechless so “Listen more than talk” becomes my natural response.

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  17. In relation to #9, which is my family’s favourite way of dealing with literally everything bad, ranging from molestation to myopia (I’m not even kidding): I would probably never trust someone who said this to me after they said it, because it is THE biggest red flag for rape apologia that doesn’t actually contain rape apologia in itself.

    Case in point: one time my mother said she’d disclose on my behalf to “spare me thinking about it” (I was in another city, she was in the same house as my uncle, who needed to be told, and she said it would be easier to disclose face-to-face). I found out weeks later that she’d lied about disclosing; apparently, she didn’t disclose because she felt “too uncomfortable bringing it up”, and my abuser spent a week in a house with my little female cousins, aged 9 and 4. But it was apparently okay because she and my father were “watching him”. Yeah, well, you missed seeing it all the times he grabbed my breasts during pujas, too, lady, what the fuck kind of observation skills are you pretending to have and to whom?

    I still don’t know if anything happened. I don’t even think it matters. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for trusting her to disclose.

  18. orangedesperado says:

    I need to add one more thing that should NOT be said to anyone who has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted/molested/subjected to domestic violence: “You’re just letting yourself be hurt by this. Don’t let it hurt you.”

    (Actual statement – slightly paraphrased – from a friend who had herself been in an abusive relationship/sexually assaulted).

    It’s a really fucked up mindset to tell anyone who has been through something traumatic that they should not be hurt by something hurtful/violating/frightening/humilating. It is important to recognize that what may not hurt you, personally, may be extremely triggering or otherwise frightening/devastating to someone else. From experience, I think it is important to recognize, feel the HURT that happens with trauma, and to move through that with time and support. However, telling a person the way that you think they should feel is destructive/not okay.

    • Aaliyah says:

      I’m not a sexual assault victim, but I want to add something that I think is related to #19 (perhaps it’s already implied by #19, but I’m not sure). I’ve been told on some occasions “You know X cares about Y, though, right?” after talking about one way in which X is abusive towards Y. And I find it very dismissive of experiences and insensitive. Likewise, telling someone that their assailant is caring, kind-hearted, etc. is surely one of the worst things to do to a victim of sexual assault.

      • Aaliyah says:

        Oops, I didn’t mean to reply to you! My comment was supposed to be separate. X_X

      • Meera says:

        God, this happened to me in an abusive (psychologically, not sexually) situation. It was almost a decade ago, but I can’t forget it, and still find it challenging to fully trust the friend who said it to me, especially since said friend is a professional with training in abuse-related issues and the abuse was happening right under her nose.

  19. Anahvia says:

    Hey y’all, writer of this article here.

    I read through each of your comments, and I appreciate all of them.

    First and foremost, I’d like to remind everyone that this is a personal recount, so everything here may not necessarily apply to *every single* person. And these are actually phrases that were spoken to me, and that would be wrong to change them.

    About #13 (and #5 and actually all of them). The reason I included explanations after each was to clarify. The phrases in quotes are the headlines, I wouldn’t be able to fit an explanation in the headline-it would just become a paragraph. Long story short-don’t offer help you can’t provide. It’s totally okay to tell your friend hey, I don’t have the emotional capacity to be here for you BUT here are some resources. #13 is about the empty promises. I think that people don’t realize the gravity of situations like these until someone they know is involved, and simple, soothing phrases that would be appropriate and effective in other situations just won’t work in a situation like this. If you would want to hear your friend say that, that’s okay too. More often than not, friends, especially college aged and younger, don’t know how to cope with a friend going through a trauma like this, especially when they have things going on in their lives too.

    I didn’t make a “things TO say” list because I am not in the authority to coin phrases that will work. No one phrase will be effective across the board. And the more something is used, the less effective it becomes (think of the “it’s not you, it’s me” line during a break up). As a commenter pointed out, doing the opposite of these things would be helpful. Namely believing your friend and not offering help you are unable to provide. I listed resources at my institution as well as FREE resources nationwide (there are plenty more than what I listed).

    As for pushing a survivor to report, there’s a way to do it and a way not to. Tell him/her the resources available. Maybe research them, get some pamphlets and bring them to your friend. Explicitly state that you are not forcing them to do anything. Yes, waiting could hurt cases in court, but you cannot put someone through a trying experience if they are not ready. It will be even more traumatizing.

    If anyone has private questions, comments, or suggestions for topics they’d like to see written about, feel free to email me via Feministe’s contact form.

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  21. Tanya says:

    I have to say, I disagree with you about a lot of the less obvious ones of these. “are you ok now”, standing out.

    I’ve been raped, I’ve held friends who have been raped. i WANTED people to ask if i was ok. I wanted people to show they were thinking of me and what i was feeling.

    Humans are not perfect. several of these come from that place where we are just trying our best.

    My own thing i say is “what do you need” “what can I do for you”, but i’d never ever feel bad as a raped woman if someone said “I’m here for you”. Your personal take on “i’m here for you” shocked me. I WANT TO KNOW YOU WILL HOLD ME any time i need. will take my call at 3 am. will walk with me the first time i get back into an elevator, or decide to try to date again.

    most of them, of course, i fully agree with. just sharing that i don’t think raped women are as judgmental about their friends trying to help, as you seem to be suggesting in a few of these.

  22. Jessica says:

    This is great. I wish my friends had read this before I confided to them my assault. They said it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk and that he’s a “nice guy”. They also kept asking “why didn’t you ______ to stop him?” …and then claimed it was probably because I liked it.
    Thank you for writing this. Everyone needs to read it.

  23. jeSpirals says:

    The only reason I can’t say I was ever raped is because I never thought I was allowed to say ‘no’. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
    I wish you strength on your path and unexpected joys all your days.

  24. Anahvia says:

    As I did say at the beginning of my piece, this is a personal recount, not a bunch of things I pulled out of thin air. As with all personal experiences, things WILL NOT apply to every single person. Anyone is more than welcome to disagree. If you don’t agree with my reasons, that’s your right and I’m not upset about it.

  25. paulina says:

    Well, I don´t even know if there is something to say in those cases, is such a sensitive matter, that I honestly do not think any words could really confofort someone in that situation, so I think that everything that the other could say would be misunderstood.

  26. Ty says:

    What to say:

    “Alright, who’s ass am I kicking today?”

  27. Anahvia says:

    To add to my above comment for clarification:

    I don’t want anyone to think that I am trying to be the end-all-be-all. Tone is an important factor which I neglected to mention in my original piece. Again, it came from my own personal experiences with 18 and 19 year olds, and I will be the first to admit that at that age we aren’t necessarily mature enough to think before we speak or to think of the other person’s feelings. What started as an article in the magazine I write for gained more widespread attention and more people outside of that 18/19 year old college student culture have read my piece. I hadn’t thought of tone because those reactions and the tones used were ones I am used to hearing. When I read those phrases the negative tones are default, I would’ve never imagined them any other way (because I’ve never heard them any other way). And from the supportive friends I do have, none of them said anything on this list at all, or anything else insensitive, so I drew off of personal experiences. I do think that reception of this is largely subjective, as I have gotten feedback from people ranging from 100% agreement to 100% disagreement. I appreciate any and all comments. I apologize if my previous comment seemed harsh or unreceptive to criticism.

  28. TimeWeaver says:

    I just want to say, as a caring friend of a number of victims. Thanks for posting this, and thanks to everyone who commented. I may have a sympathetic ear, but I recognize that these traumas are so far outside my experience that real empathy is nearly impossible without the kind of insight you’ve provided here. It is incredibly helpful to hear about your experiences from your point of view, and have some idea how, what I might say affects someone that’s been through an assault.

    I also add my two cents worth on Reflective Listening. They try to teach this at my work place as an interpersonal communication technique for conflict resolution. I have to say I find it a valuable way to get someone to talk through their feelings and reactions without injecting my own stuff. When someone is practicing the “technique” without real empathy, it comes off exactly as Kitteh and Miranda describe. Simply put – If you have basic listening skills and empathy, using the technique is very effective and helpful, if you don’t, you will only come off as inauthentic and patronizing.

  29. khops says:

    #1 and #16 – Thanks a lot, mom.

    Seriously I think not being believed was the worst out of all of it.

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  31. Emily says:

    I LOVE this list. Some of these are SO inappropriate that it makes me angry they even have to be said. Thank you to the writer who can calmly explain why they are wrong, instead of just screaming a mixture of DUH and expletives, like myself.

    I do, however, want to ask a follow-up question regarding #13, “You can always come to me whenever you need me.” What, exactly, is wrong with that?

    I LOVE the response as much as I love the rest of the piece: “It’s okay to let me know that you don’t think you’re someone who can provide the support I need, because this is a delicate and traumatic situation to deal with. Suggesting I reach out to a counselor or other resources is perfectly okay. I promise I won’t be offended.” However, I fail to see the direct connection between the statement and the response. I agree that I am not qualified to help the survivor in every way that s/he will need, but I *am* willing to listen. Why is it bad to express that willingness? Or am I misunderstanding?

    Thanks to anyone who can help me and a big THANK YOU again to the writer!!!

    • Emily says:

      Whoops, just scrolled up and found the answer to my question. Nevermind! But seriously, THANK YOU for writing this!!

  32. Wang says:

    If comments like “This is about me, too,” are really being directed at and heard by rape victims, then it means that at least a large portion of our population is in denial about the realities of sexual assault.

    Is their view of rape an assholeish one? In my eyes, yes, but obviously, they don’t see it that way. This holds for a lot of people, enough to inspire the author of this blog to write down a long list of ways to not accidentally hurt people’s feelings. But my guess is that people in denial about rape are probably just as likely to be in denial about their attitudes towards rape, which is why articles like this don’t accomplish nearly as much as their authors would like. The people this article talks about are going to see undeserved bitching cleverly disguised as elitist dialogue. There must be a better way to communicate the ideas of rape culture than this.

  33. Suzi says:

    I just wanted to say Guestblogger, I am with you on all of it. I was raped by an ex bf who was a self-professed Dominant, but left out that he was also a sadist. Because of how he went about it, I felt stupid and ashamed. I was physically damaged, but never went to the hospital. I never went to the police. It has been 9 years, and just the sight of any strange man puts me on edge. Being touched by any man other than my husband puts me on the defensive. I would not have even married my husband if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew exactly how I felt. I was ready to be a lesbian!

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  36. Hexabolic says:

    A friend of mine who was supporting me in relationship stuff disclosed during the conversation that she’d been sexually assaulted a couple of years ago. I did not make any of the statements here, but as a father of two daughters, I shared that I was experiencing an anger reaction both on behalf of my friend and that my daughters might someday suffer likewise. I remained calm and didn’t describe any vengeance fantasies or dwell on it beyond expressing that I was feeling angry and sad about my friend having been assaulted, and that I sometimes felt afraid for my daughters.

    She was cool at the time, but later posted something on FB about having to support me in my reaction, which was something she shouldn’t have to do. She had a PTSD reaction the next day. I checked in to offer my support, and she shared that she was fine with my reaction and doesn’t hold me responsible (I didn’t ask and tried not to make any assumptions that would make it about me). I’m reminded that simple discussion can trigger flashbacks or powerful emotions connected to the assault.

    My question is: how best to react with honesty and sensitivity? I absolutely didn’t want to trigger her, but at the same time, didn’t realize at the time that my reaction could contribute to her PTSD reaction. Even well-meaning people who avoid the big mistakes can fail to grasp how trauma works.

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