I have talked to many rape and abuse victims. While all their stories are unique, there are always a few constants. I have seen two distinct patterns. One: the physical event that leads to emotional trauma later in life. Two: the complete misunderstanding of that emotional trauma by loved ones, leading to more emotional trauma.
This site is dedicated to helping survivors work through some of their healing by telling their stories. They are surrounded by others telling their stories, and can form connections that are mutually beneficial.
But, today, I wanted to focus a little on the people who have no idea what it is like to have suffered that pain. The people who genuinely want to help, but have no idea how.
The most effective way to do that is to reveal some common myths about rape victims, and shine some light on the truths that contribute to healing.
Myth 1: A victim knows what happened.
This will probably surprise some people, but it can actually take a long time before a victim fully understands what happened. or even that it was wrong. This is where many allegations of a woman lying about a rape initiate. People assume that a woman knows exactly what happened and that it was wrong, and therefore should come forward immediately.
Myth 2: She went back to him, so he didn’t rape her.
I have heard many, many people give this as a reason to dismiss a woman’s rape allegations. “Well, she said he raped/abused/assaulted her, but obviously she lied or else she wouldn’t put herself in the same situation again.” This goes back to Myth 1, where a woman can know one minute that it was 100% wrong, and the next, convince herself that it was all her fault. The average abuse victim goes back to their abuser 7 times.
Myth 3: They need a hug.
NO. WE. DON’T. If you are a touchy person, be prepared to learn a new way to love a victim. Touching of any kind is grounds for never talking to you again. It may sound harsh, but having control over your personal space is a very, very big deal to a victim. Respect it.
Myth 4: They know what they want to talk about
So many well-intentioned people offer support in the form of, “I’m here if you want to talk about it.” It? For a victim, every ounce of emotional energy will be spent figuring out what “it” is. It is almost never the physical act. More like an alphabet soup of feelings. Feelings that, to someone with no experience, may seem to have zero to do with “it”. So, yes, we would love to talk about “it”, but “it” may be how we have binge-watched 8 seasons of Law & Order: SVU, and developed a caffeine addiction.
Myth 5: We need fixed
The main unanswered question to a victim is, “was this my fault?” That answer may seem totally obvious to you. And it can be really frustrating to watch someone you love struggle with this when you could just help them get there and get on with life. But, for a victim, the entire healing process involves recognizing your own worth, and taking control (in a healthy way) of your life.
If you try to force that process by fixing us, what we hear is, “Hey, you’re not normal. You’re at about 75% of what everyone else is. I know you want to take your time going through this, but let’s just move it along. I’ll take it from here.” So, you want to take control of the healing process because we aren’t good enough for you? Thanks, you just confirmed my worst fears and have taken my decision-making power away. I’ll just go ahead and never speak to you again.
Solution: You really can be part of the healing process
So, now that you know what doesn’t help, it’s time to focus on what will. And, honestly, it’s going to require a lot of patience. This is not a one-week, or even a ten-year process. It can take an entire lifetime. A journey that doesn’t really have a destination, and that we either race to or avoid like the plague.
We have mood swings, depressions, substance abuse, and days where we just hate ourselves. Days where we want to save the world, and days where we wish it would disappear. Days where we want to go out for coffee and talk about “it”, and days where we cancel all our plans because I just hate people.
The only thing you can do is to listen. That’s it. Just listen. And try to understand. Don’t give advice or try to help. Don’t try to cheer us up or make us forget. And, for the love of God, don’t coddle our depressions. Just listen. We will have to decide to heal on our own.
It’s not as small of a contribution as you may think. Having someone in your life who doesn’t try to control anything; not even your healing process, is a gem. A treasure. Someone we feel safe around. Someone who tries to understand tells us our feelings matter. They help us think about how we feel and express it. Seeing someone not cringe or listen with the intent of fixing lets us know he didn’t break us. We aren’t fighting just to be an acceptable human. We are already a worthy person, who is just trying to learn from an experience.
If you do have someone in your life who has been raped or abused, please understand that this will affect multiple areas in their life. There are plenty of resources out there explaining the emotional state of a victim, and a survivor.
Also, please read the stories of those who have shared on our site. The first step to loving someone is first understanding who they are.
Thank you, and please comment with any additional myths or suggestions for the loved ones of survivors.
(my use of women for the victim, and men for the perpetrator is not suggestive of my thinking only men rape and only women suffer. I know many men are victims of rape, but I have never had the opportunity to talk to one, as this crime is still extremely underreported)