So, as is probably self-evident by now, I’ve spent a decent amount of time agonizing over how my own reactions to a variety of things surrounding my rape have been Wrong.
Well, here’s some time for me to talk about the other side of that coin: the Wrong Reactions that people who are told about the rape should avoid, for fuck’s sake.
I’m not going to take the generic community-clinic pamphlet approach to this and hold your hand through an explanation of the politically correct response when someone tells you about a rape, because I don’t think there is one Overarching Correct Response that you need to be prepared at all times to whip out. To err is human. Rape victims have the power of inference just as well as most; we’re not expecting the supportive people in our lives to magically have the Perfect Right Thing To Say.
This, to be clear, is about some broad categories of reactions that you should NOT whip out if you value your relationship with the victim and their willingness to be open with you. These are not hypotheticals or theories; this is what I’ve gleaned from my own experience. So, with that in mind, if anyone else reading this has any ideas at all for more things to be added to the list, please, by all means let me know about it! I can guarantee that I’ll keep the suggestions anonymous, but it’d be really helpful since I want to make this list as comprehensive as I can manage.
Also, another order of business: I have chosen to use gender-neutral pronouns for this entry, because I think it’s a goddamn tragedy the way that people forget that men/transgender persons/etc can be victims of rape and sexual assault. I have to admit, I’m not necessarily familiar with etiquette and technicalities surrounding gender-neutral language, but in the list I was able to find I’ve chosen “ze/hir”, simply because I’ve seen that one used most frequently. If there’s anyone out there who’s more familiar with this stuff than I am, please correct me if I’ve managed to screw it up.
1. Don’t Ignore It
I understand that it’s really, really hard to force yourself to focus on things that make you this uncomfortable, and that, presumably, the information sort of came out of nowhere. Seriously, there’s really no good way to segue from normal conversation to “so…I was raped X amount of time ago/by Y/with Z.” Personally, I’ve been known to just take that route in as many words, which is probably pretty jarring and unfair on my part.
Here’s the thing, though. By immediately switching the conversation away from the topic at hand, you are essentially telling hir that a) this information isn’t important enough to merit a real reaction, b) ze made the wrong choice by telling you – a choice ze likely agonized over for quite a period of time, and c) inferred from part a, that hir own emotional reactions regarding what was done to hir are overreactions, and thus ze is wrong for giving them any creedence.
As you may have guessed, this is not the most helpful set of impressions to give.
So, please, try to come up with something. Even if it’s just a “shit, I don’t even know what to say” followed by whatever else you can come up with, that’s worlds better. As long as ze knows that you’re at least making an effort to wrap your mind around what ze has told you, sometimes that can be all it really takes.
2. Don’t Focus On The Time Aspect
In how many other trauma-related situations is “WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME/SOMEONE ELSE EARLIER ASDAFJKHLG” in any way an appropriate response? Not many, is the answer. In fact, I can’t really think of one of the top of my head. Why? Because that is a fucking bullshit reaction to anything.
Is time a factor? Sure, it is. If someone tells you an hour after ze was raped, I’d say it’s totally appropriate to encourage hir to go to a hospital to get a rape kit done, etc. But unless it’s something that very directly affects you (for example, if your significant other was sexually assaulted and may have ended up with an STI, and still failed to inform you until after you’d been potentially exposed), you have absolutely no right to tell hir that ze was wrong to wait until they did to tell. Obviously, they did so for a reason, whatever that reason may be. And if your initial reaction is an accusatory you opened up about this at the wrong time and that’s the part of this I am going to treat as important, there’s a real good chance they won’t ever be willing to divulge that reason to you in the first place.
3. Don’t Make It About You
Part of this one ties in a little with the previous.
I guess that people have this complex where they assume they deserve to know these sorts of things right off the bat, or in a certain way, or whatever else you can think of. It’s a reaction I’ve seen very blatantly and more than once: the good ol’ You Betrayed Me By Not Telling Me Before Now / In X Time Frame / Before You Told Y / Until Z / Like Q / etc.
As I mentioned before, this was the reaction of my best friend. He was the first person I told, about three and a half months after the fact. And I’m sorry to say that between my telling him and his reaction, I think we caused an irreparable rift in our friendship. He can’t admit that you’re a terrible friend for not trusting me enough to tell me sooner, and for letting it keep happening is a bullshit reaction that should be apologized for, and for my part, I can’t forgive him for it or let him go.
I can’t honestly believe this is something that needs to be explained, but here ya go. Extenuating circumstances aside, a friend bringing up a situation that most likely pretty much destroyed their sense of self-worth and trust is not, ever, in any way, the opportunity for you to get butthurt about how you got left out of the I Found Out Immediately Club that you seem to think exists.
It is not the opportunity for you to go off on hir about how Rude it is to Bring Up Things Like That because you Might Upset People.
It is not the opportunity for you to say, like one of my ex-friends did, well if you let him do things like that to you, why wouldn’t you let me do that?
It is not the opportunity for you to try to make hir somehow Regain Your Forgiveness and Trust.
If you think you’re entitled to be told, simply on the basis of being a friend, then you are not a Good Friend™.
4. STILL Don’t Make It About You
This one is a little less intuitive, but still in the same vein.
It’s pretty natural to be in shock and wonder about What You Could Have Done.
But the fact is, it happened, and I doubt that you could have prevented it.
There are exceptions. My closest friend from high school – still undoubtedly my fucking soul mate, but also a person who I see on average once or twice per year – was leaving a bar with her friends when a man who had been pestering her all night followed her back to her cab. Her friends ignored it – and missed her calls later shortly before she was raped.
That is a situation where I will never forgive those friends for being so fucking negligent. But that sort of situation is very much the exception. And even then, it was not their fault, per se. It was the rapist’s fault – it is always, always the rapist’s fault – but they did not do what they very obviously should have done to ensure her safety. It’s a fucked-up reflection on our society that interventative action like that should even have to be taken in situations like that, but in that particular situation, they should have known better.
However, by and very fucking large, there was probably no way you could have known, could have prevented it, or anything along those lines.
If you do decide to take this route, congratulations. You’ve now turned the tables completely such that the person you are supposed to be supporting is now stuck comforting and reassuring you that it isn’t your fault. And believe me, that is most likely not anything that they will be in any sort of place to handle at that particular moment.
It’s gotten to the point that, honestly, preparing for this sort of reaction is automatic for me. I hate that shit. I hate immediately feeling like I have to follow up any sort of sympathetic reaction with Hey, Hey, No, Okay, It’s Not A Big Deal, Don’t Worry About It, I’m Overreacting, just so I can head off any sort of Bawww Tell Me I Shouldn’t Feel Guilty For Your Rape.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
5. STILL. DON’T. MAKE. IT. ABOUT. YOU.
Am I getting the point across yet?
So, we’ve already conceded that learning about a friend’s rape is a hell of a shock, and not something that’s easy to deal with. I am perfectly willing to give you that. It is not your responsibility to babysit someone through every minute of hir recovery; in fact, doing so will do no good for anyone, and will also be way too hard on you. Don’t feel like you need to do it.
But there is another aspect to that: you don’t get to blame the victim for the fact that being told that someone you care about was raped makes you uncomfortable.
Yeah, it’s not a pleasant subject. It sucks to hear about. It sucks even more that it’s so prevalent. It sucks even more that, despite it being so prevalent, everyone seems perfectly happy to ignore it. And it sucks most of all to have it done to you.
That in no way means that it was the victim’s fault that it sucks to hear about.
Of course, you don’t want to hear every gory detail. And fair enough, most victims won’t want to reveal that to you anyway. I talk a little more viscerally on here than I’d even consider doing in real life, because I don’t like making people uncomfortable.
But especially if you’ve spent a large amount of time reassuring your friend that you’ll Always Be There For hir or any similar promises, then you don’t get to tell them that they’re at fault for your inability to internalize the fact that, hey, maybe the world isn’t as sunshine-y of a place as you always thought.
6. Don’t Play Apples To Apples With It
This is sort of one of those things where, if you’re tempted to engage in it, I’m going to be frank and mention that you’re probably a terrible person to come to about anything.
There are two basic flavors of making comparisons that you should not be making, when it comes to rape.
One of these is comparing it to other peoples’ rapes. That’s all? or I’ve heard worse or that’s not REAL rape or yeah, well, a similar thing happened to my friend except it was a lot scarier or any variation on any of these are not okay. Not at all. What the fuck kind of friend are you, if you respond to someone’s confession of being violated in a very big way with “gee, that’s too bad – but cheer up, it could be worse!”
I recently had a really fun experience with this, where a mutual friend of the Other Girl’s and mine – and a rape victim herself, no less – informed me that “yeah, I mean, it’s shitty that he did what he did to you, but to her? God, that’s sick. That’s fucking sociopath shit right there. She’s so…innocent, you know? Nobody could ever think she deserved something like that!”
Oh, so you’re saying I did, then.*
See why that isn’t helpful?
The other garden variety of idiotic comparisons is the kind where the friend/ally/whatever decides it’s legitimate to compare the rape to something totally unrelated (check my previous post about rape jokes for some variations on the theme).
I get that you might just be trying to be helpful, but seriously. Getting your picture taken without permission is not like rape. Seeing that rape scene in whatever action-drama you watched last weekend does not mean you know what rape is about. That failing grade you got on last week’s midterm is not at all analogous to sexual assault. Your rapist’s refusal to wash the dishes with anything but cold water is NOT FUCKING COMPARABLE TO RAPE.
I’ll just repeat that last part again, for those of us who may have missed it.
NOT. FUCKING. COMPARABLE. TO. RAPE.
Most rapes aren’t even comparable to each other, let alone to other life events. End of story. Case closed.
Okay, that’s what I’ve got so far. I’m rather tired, and rather hungover, and I just want to go to bed (and, hopefully, once my roommate gets done loudly discussing magic mushrooms with two of her friends, I’ll be able to do just that). Once again, please please pretty please with sugar on top let me know somehow if you think there’s anything I’ve missed, need to elaborate on, anything.
*For those of you interested in a post about slut-shaming, such as implicitly telling me that my rape meant less because I’m a whore or whatever, stay tuned! I’ll have one up one of these days. If too long goes by, shoot me a comment/message and remind me.