This is a guest post by Shelley. Shelley is a 19 y/o English Literature student at Leeds University (UK,) cultural re-appropriator, angry Black grrrl, and (somewhat) apathetic activist.
In response to Anahvia Mewborn’s post ‘20 things never to say to a friend who confides in you that they’ve been sexually assaulted,’ I’ve compiled a short checklist of positive things TO do in this situation. Despite the original piece being heteronormative, this one is not. However, my response is based on personal experience of male/female sexual violence and so some parts may reflect this.
1) Don’t say anything at all.
Confiding in someone is a cathartic process and one of the first steps on the road to recovery, unless you are explicitly asked for advice, just listen. Don’t try to ‘solve’ the issues, whilst your support is important, it’s not a ‘problem’ for you to fix or pass judgement on.
2) If you ARE implicitly invited to speak, make sure they know you are there for them, and that you are not judging, disbelieving or blaming them.
Survivors always blame themselves initially, especially in instances when the rape has been on the part of a friend/partner, of a less explicitly violent nature, or if the survivor was intoxicated etc. These are all instances of rape, but internalized sexism results in survivors often being confused, scared and even dismissive of this treatment as sexual assault. It’s equally important however, not to immediately put your own label of ‘victim’/’survivor’ onto them, this is a decision and realization they must come to themselves.
3) Give them space, but reassure them you are there when they need you.
As mentioned in point 1, the act of recounting a traumatic experience such as rape and/or sexual violence is a brave one, your friend has likely been working up to this for a while. A common reaction on the part of friends/family/partners is to leap in and want to take care of them. Love, care and support are vital, but recovery needs to be on your friend’s terms and timescale, not yours. Don’t expect them to bounce back straight away, it’s an uphill road that takes years and often a ‘full recovery’ is a myth. Sexual trauma can shape behavior for life and this is something you and your friend must be prepared for. Equally, don’t patronize. Treat your friend with respect. If they’re having a good day, let them. Don’t remind them of survivor status, trust me – we don’t need reminding.
4) Do your own research.
Find out what services and support centers there are in your area. Offer these gently. At the end of the day, the decision about the next steps is up to your friend, not you. Try not to push them onto one path or another, if they don’t want to take a certain approach, respect that decision. The last thing they need is additional pressure to please people around them or conform to what someone else believes is best.
5) Do (only) what they want you to do.
This is by far the most important and helpful thing you can do in such a situation. It’s simple really, just ask. The decisions about how to proceed are entirely up to your friend, not you. Although having a friend/partner/relative confide in you that they are a survivor is emotional for the listener, anything to do with their next steps or their attacker is not your prerogative, no matter how upset or angry you are. Some of us would rather forget what happened, and if your friend/partner is constantly looking to ‘get back’ at them in some way can be triggering. If we don’t want vengeance, legal action or even any mention of the events (unless initiated by us,) then please respect that. Recovery is a process not an event, and your friend surely knows best how they are feeling from day to day. The thing about recovery is that it’s an up-and-down thing: some days people are comfortable talking, analyzing events and maybe planning further action, some days they’re not. As a friend and ally, you have to be prepared to take things at a different pace, not necessarily slower, just wholly dictated by the survivor.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- 20 Things Never to Say to a Friend Who Confides in You That They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted by Guest Blogger June 11, 2013
- In the Margins: A Perspective on Sexual Assault Conversations by Guest Blogger September 30, 2013
- The Toll of FAAB on FAAB Childhood Sexual Abuse by Guest Blogger April 17, 2012
- On Change and Accountability: A Response to Clarisse Thorn by Guest Blogger December 31, 2011
- Rape, consent and responsibility by Guest Blogger January 7, 2013