With the high incidence of rape and sexual assaults in our country, we not only need better policing and laws but also an improved attitude towards survivors of such crimes. Some of the ways in which you can be more sensitive are discussed below.
1. Life does go on
According to some rape survivors, people express shock when they try to have some light-hearted fun. Our media conditions us to view rape as a fate worse than death, which is why there’s often an attempt to hush it up. For some people, a girl who was raped should never want to party or step out of the house; but that is not something that anyone else should think of deciding for others. Maybe she wants to get her mind off it and move on, so let her.
2. In their own time
Likewise, some victims report that people tell them to “Get over it”. If getting over trauma was that easy, there would be no need for therapists. Some people can move on from bitter experiences quickly, some need more time, so don’t set yourself up as someone’s god and demand that they move on. If you want to help, you can suggest that they do some of the activities that they enjoyed before and try and gently encourage them to take an interest in life again.
3. Therapy is good
Often families don’t want any “outsider” to know about the rape so the victims end up suffering in silence. This can lead to depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicidal thoughts and more. Encourage the survivor to talk to a reliable psychiatrist/psychoanalyst who deals with victims of sexual assaults. There is a code of silence that these professionals have to maintain so there’s no need to worry about facts leaking out.
4. Don’t dig for dirt
Seriously, just don’t. If the rape survivor wants to share details with you, listen patiently, but if she doesn’t, do not ask for the gory details. Someone else’s pain should not be your source of entertainment and there really is no need for you to know exactly what all happened. Schadenfreude is one hell of an ugly emotion to own.
5. Hindsight is 20/20
Of course, now that she looks back on it, she knows that she should probably have done this or not done that, she really doesn’t need you to point it out to her. You’re just making matters worse by listing all that she could have done differently. Keep in mind that under similar circumstances, you might have also ended up making the wrong move, so shut it.
6. Respect their privacy
If you have been told about the rape and have been requested to not share the information, please respect that decision. Yes, you trust your friend completely, and that friend trusts her other friend completely…we all know how gossip works. If you don’t want the added guilt of turning her experience into the latest juicy gossip, keep the news to yourself.
7. Their “honor” is intact
In our country, we view rape as something that can take away a person’s honor. That is just not true. It is a sexual, physical crime and doesn’t affect the person’s honor at all. Just like a random psychopath sticking a knife in you doesn’t take away your honor or dignity, rape doesn’t take away an assault survivor’s honor or dignity. Stress that since the fault wasn’t hers, she has nothing to be ashamed of.
8. Survivor not victim
By better supporting people who’ve been sexually assaulted, we can hope to not only lift the stigma involved in such cases but also learn to view them as survivors rather than victims. As long as rapists feel like they’re victimizing someone, they win; because rape is more about power and control than about sex. Calling someone a survivor involves viewing them as strong people, calling them victims makes them powerless.
9. Be yourself
People who are sexually assaulted can end up feeling worse when people start talking to them in whispers and moving gingerly around them, because it is not normal behavior. For those of you who are compassionate and considerate, your main worry is to not be overbearing or in-your-face at such times. The easiest thing to do is put yourself in their position – you may not want to be touched or hugged but people can still talk to you normally and not like you’re on your death bed.
10. Support structure
Since all of us lead incredibly busy lives, despite your best intentions, you may not have the time to provide the full support that an assault survivor needs. It is best if you can help her get some sort of support from elsewhere too. Helpful parents, relatives and friends are always good options; if those are not available, then you can check out support groups that deal with assault survivors. The thing to keep in mind is that these people must not have a “blame the victim” attitude.