I can’t tell you how much better I feel after starting this blog. I feel like I’m not hiding from myself and from others anymore. Being back at home in a small community people have asked all summer and fall why I’m back from DC. I just told people that DC is a soul-sucking place and it was time to come home. It was the truth, but only the partial truth.
There is still plenty of the story to tell, but on this post I want to focus on supporting survivors. I’ve had a continuous outpouring of love since the blog started, but the #1 question asked of me is how can we help someone who is a victim of rape or assault?
I will use the term victim & survivor interchangeably sometimes. There are times in my recovery where I felt like a survivor, but the next day I felt like a victim. It all kind of melds together. I can honestly say that I finally feel like a survivor!
I was and am fortunate that I have a solid support system. I have had friends & family supporting me from the beginning. Having this type of support is unfortunately rare according to the detectives I worked with. They were in awe of the support I had and said that most people who come in after being assaulted come in by themselves and have nobody to support them. That safe house I stayed at the first night? That was my friend’s place. If I didn’t have somewhere to go they have emergency places for people to go. The places get used unfortunately because victims don’t have support.
I’ve been in the fight of my life to go from victim to survivor for the past three years, and I have had the best support around. I struggle even with the help of supportive people and can’t imagine what life is like not having that support.
The handful of people that I shared my rape story with, not one of them said something awful. Everyone was supportive, listened and cared. It’s that easy (yet I know it is so hard). Every one of them were stunned, but were there to listen. The best words I heard were some of the following:
“I am so sorry this happened to you. How can I best support you?”
“Thank you for sharing your story with me.”
“Thank you for trusting me with your story.”
“I believe you.”
Here are a few examples of things you shouldn’t ask (fortunately these were not things asked of me):
“What were you wearing?”
“Why were you out at that time?”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“Why did you let this happen?”
Telling someone, even your best friend, is a monumentally huge step for a victim. Saying what happened out loud validates what happened and it is traumatic. So, if someone opens up to you do two simple things – listen and don’t judge.
You are going to have so many questions for your friend/family member about their assault and it is completely fine to ask those questions as long as they are comfortable talking about it. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let them ramble on. Trust me, once I start talking with a trusted person I can’t stop because I have stuffed feelings inside for so long.
Here is the hard part – you will be an active listener and you will want to help fix the problem and support the victim in absolutely any way possible, but it won’t be that easy. While the victim has confided in you, there might not be much else at the time that you can do to help. You can’t ‘fix’ rape.
The best advice I can give you is to check in with your friend/family member and ask how they are doing. You might just get an unenthusiastic “I’m Fine”, but you are checking in and showing support. Take them out for a walk or to coffee. Maybe you won’t talk about the assault, maybe you will, but you are showing your support. Don’t be upset if they turn down your offers to go out. Dealing with rape is a very isolating experience. I turned down a lot of social engagements because I just couldn’t handle being out in public. I needed my own space to think. When I was ready to go out and do something I would contact my friends.
Know that there are going to be peaks & valleys in their emotions. Don’t take it personally. Recovering from this trauma has no play-book and one day is different from the other. Be kind.
The most important thing that you can do for a victim and survivor? LISTEN We just want to be heard.
For more tips on supporting survivors, please go to http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/6-steps-to-support-a-survivor