Trigger warning: This is about sexual abuse, assault and rape.
There is a bit of a movement against rape culture going on on the web recently, which is great. So I thought, I might contribute something. Rape myths and rape culture are topics that are covered elsewhere, though there remains a lot to be done to get the message through, apparently. This post is going to be about all the fun things you might have to deal with in your social circle after being assaulted. It's mainly meant for people who know survivors (so probably pretty much everybody) in the sense that it should give you some hints on how to act.
I will write about my own experiences in this article. I know that people I know personally read this blog, including those who didn't know anything about this until now. To these people, I'd really like to be clear about one thing: Don't you dare treat me any different after reading this. No matter in what way. I'm still the same person and I do not want to be defined by that.
As we should all know by now, statistics show that the people who are most likely to rape you are those that are closest to you. Parents, Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, Spouses, Partners, Friends... The list goes on. This is bad. It's not only bad because you're boundaries are violated, your will is completely ignored and you are being used and degraded. It's not only bad because of the fear, pain and the total loss of control. It's also bad because if you can't even trust a person that close to you, then who can be trusted at all? (Imagine how shocked you would be if your best friend suddenly slammed their fist in your face.) You can't talk to person you would usually talk about something like that, because, well, that's the one who did it in the first place.
So, provided that you have any hope in humanity left, you turn to other people who - at least so far - used to care about you. I wish I wouldn't have to say this but I would be lying if I didn't: Telling someone can go horribly wrong. Especially if the person you talk to knows the rapist.
In my case, it was the person I considered one of my best friends, from now on referred to as Idiot. I didn't tell it to a lot of people. The first person was an older guy who was a bit like an older brother to me and who sort of "saved" me by telling me that, no, what Idiot did was actually not OK and I had every right to stop being friends with him. Now that was a great reaction and I will probably forever and ever love him for that. It was also the last helpful one for a while. I also told my two best friends about it and that was already not so great. Basically, they didn't really grasp the severity of the whole thing. In retrospect, I can't really blame them, we were all pretty young after all. But back then it really hurt me because I wanted to be understood and I needed their solidarity. For a long time, that didn't happen because Idiot was also their friend and they saw no reason to change that.
Three years later, things kind of escalated. I couldn't act as if everything was fine between me and him anymore, so my dislike for him became clear to everyone in our circle. Suddenly everybody seemed to know and to this day, I don't really see how that could have happened. I certainly didn't want it. Seeing his reputation threatened, he spread his own version of the story, according to which I pressured him to have sex. Uhm. Right. While, at first, I was told that nobody believed in that story, it turned out that nobody really believed in mine either. Sure, I didn't talk about it much, so most people had never heard my own account but still or maybe exactly because of that, it would have been nice if I wouldn't have been branded as either a liar or hysterical. The tenor was something like "Well, you know, there are always two sides of a story, the truth is somewhere in between, bla bla bla. Besides, I don't really care." After a while, with the help of one or two other guys who wanted to sleep with me but couldn't because they had girlfriends, things got even better. According to popular opinion, I now was a slut and a groupie. That was when he won and I left the group.
Needless to say, I never reported to the police. If my own friends didn't believe me, why should the justice system?
So here comes the advice part. ^^
- If somebody tells you that they were raped or abused, believe it. The number of false accusation is almost nonexistent compared to the number of actual incidents so it is very unlikely that they are lying. It might be difficult to believe that your close relative, good friend or beloved partner would do that but the fact is, most rapists are actually pretty normal people. People who are usually friendly, people who are funny and who you might like to hang out with, people who are nice to kids and help old women cross the street. Even if it's actually one of the rare cases of the stranger in the street - those people have lives too. They don't spend all day in dark alleyways, waiting for a victim. They have to do the usual stuff like go to work, go shopping for groceries, do their laundry, talk to their neighbours...
Yes, it might be hard to believe but that doesn't change the facts. Don't punish somebody for just telling the truth, especially not a rape victim. Besides, speaking from my own experience, most of us don't want to make a big deal out of it. I definitely didn't want everybody to know, I just wanted to confide in one or two special persons and I think that goes for most people. So, if it were a false accusation, trying to keep it more or less a secret wouldn't make much sense.
- Pick a side. Yup, that sound tough and kind of unfair. But you're not a judge, you're a friend. You just have to decide whose friend you are. You will not be a safe person to talk to as long as you are friends with the rapist. What's more important and what non-survivors probably find hard to understand, sexual assault is pretty much the worst thing somebody can do to you. It comes right after murder, for some victims even before that. I'm really having trouble explaining just how much it sucks. Personally, I could never be friends with someone who did that to a person who is close to me, and if you would have experienced it first hand, you probably couldn't either. Now you might not know that, but the survivor does. To the survivor, remaining friends with the rapist is an insult, a sign that you don't believe them or that you belittle their feelings. So if you care about the survivor, stop talking to the rapist.
(OK, I actually feel a bit nervous about posting this, considering that it means letting people know about this who didn't before. I will post it though because I'm sick of being ashamed of something that I didn't do. Be nice, please. ^^)