How to Not Be a Dick to Rape Victims

The last time I was raped, I arrived back home to the hostel I’d was staying at, still incapacitated from whatever I’d been drugged with and proceeded to tell anyone who would listen what I had just been through. 24 hours later, when the drugs wore off, I was overwhelmed with regret. Not because I was embarrassed by what had happened to me, but because I was hit with the painful realisation that I was going to have to put myself through the further trauma that would be interacting with the people who cared about me.

There is something seriously lacking with our society’s approach to dealing with victims of trauma. Well-meaning family and friends, at a loss, give toxic advice and react with seemingly no empathy. The fact is, a lot of people genuinely don’t know what to say or do, so they say or do completely the wrong thing, causing us further pain.

Victim blaming and shaming is so ingrained in our culture that a lot of victims find themselves questioning if they were really to blame for their attack. Having their loved ones react with cruelty, dismissal or a lack of empathy to their stories just enforces this. No one who’s just been raped should have to suffer through feelings of self-doubt and further pain at the hands of their loved ones. So, I’m going to break it down for you all with ten simple tips on how not to be a dick to rape victims.

1. For the love of God, ask.

Every rape victim is has slightly different triggers and emotions. There is no way to navigate this without communication. So, if you want to help, ask them what they need from you. This especially goes for physical contact. Some people will be very triggered by any touch, even if the intention behind it is to comfort them. Before carrying out your ideas of how to “help”, please ask first.

2. Don’t bring up their rapist’s feelings.

This one seems simple, but it’s surprising how many times I’ve had people try tell me how my rapist may “not have understood” or that he didn’t mean to hurt me. Whether or not that is the case does not matter to me. Rapist’s supposed pain has no relevance to their victims’ lives. We have enough confusion, guilt and stress of our own without having to consider theirs. Thanks.

3. Don’t bring up the pain their situation may have caused you.

While we’re talking about the confusion, guilt and stress that rape victims shouldn’t have to deal with, I’m sure it sucks that you’re watching someone you care about suffer, but this just enforces guilt they have about the fact that they are suffering and makes them feel like a burden.

For example:
“It’s so sad that this has happened to you, people are sickening and you deserve better”. Okay.
“I’m so sad this has happened to you. I feel so sick about it – this is just so upsetting for me me me me me.” Really not okay.

If you’re struggling to cope with this, try to find someone external who can support you with it.

4. Let them choose if and when they want to discuss their experience with you.

Don’t force them into discussions about it out of the blue or too often. This can be disturbing.

5. Don’t imply that this has somehow changed them.

The stigma that rape victims are damaged beyond repair is something we should have left back at the dawn of civilisation. It’s 2018: we know rape victims are still who they were before, still incredibly lovable and cute as fuck. No predator can change that. This can be something worth reminding them of occasionally.

6. Don’t invalidate the levels of emotional distress they are expressing.

Not everyone will fall to pieces and not everyone will be able to function. Remember that everyone deals with trauma differently and however well they are coping or not coping is valid.

7. Let them decide whether or not to report their attacker. Tell them you will support them either way. Then actually support them.

There are lots of factors that might stop someone from reporting their experiences to the police. It’s not your decision to make and it’s certainly not your place to make them feel guilty for their decision. Keep in mind that only one out of every nine cases of rape reported to the police in New Zealand – where I’m from – will result in a conviction. The chances of a rape victim winning their case is definitely low enough to justify avoiding the potential trauma of dealing with the legal system.

The chances of a rape victim winning their case is definitely low enough to justify avoiding the potential trauma of dealing with the legal system.

If you’re thinking of invalidating someone’s experience because they didn’t report their perpetrator, do us all a favour and stop. They deserve so much better than you.

8. Don’t suggest they confront or interact with their rapist, especially if the rape was recent.

It’s not their responsibility to tell their rapist that what happened wasn’t okay; chances are the rapist knows that. If you feel so strongly about someone contacting the rapist, offer to do so, but if they ask you not to, respect that.

9. Be aware of their feelings in social situation

Some people will feel extremely vulnerable in social situations after being raped. If you’re going out with someone who has recently been raped, try to occasionally check that they’re feeling okay and help them organise a way home if they start to panic. Remember that people who are panicking often find it hard to plan, so offering your help in these situations is really valuable.

10. Don’t criticise them for anything they did before being raped.

If they were flirting, drinking, or even kissing their attacker beforehand, it doesn’t matter. If they didn’t give consent or withdrew consent, it is still rape and rape is never the victim’s fault.

If this has brought up any issues for you, you can contact 1800 RESPECT in Australia, and New Zealanders can find helplines by area here.

Cover by Naomi August 

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