There have been so many people who have helped me survive life after rape. I know that it isn’t easy to help carry me, and I wanted to dedicate a post entirely to the support system and the ways they are affected by standing by my side. So here are some incredible insights from my boyfriend, my best friend who knew me before being raped, and my best friend who I met after being raped. I hope this post can help you if you are part of someone’s support system.
Also, I want to take this moment to acknowledge everyone who has played any role in mine. I want to say you know who you are, but maybe you don’t. So if you’re someone who answered the phone, even after years of no communication; if you’ve given me rides to police stations, prosecutors offices, or trains; if you’ve kept me company; if you’ve kept me from crying, especially at work; if you’ve stayed with me while I did cry, especially at work; if you replied to my messages; if you reached out to me privately, especially if you shared your own trauma with me; if you responded publicly, sharing your voice with everyone; if you liked a single one of my posts; if you have read any of my posts, even if you have chosen not to let me know in any way; if you have heard me; if you’ve defended me; if you’ve wished you knew how to support me but didn’t; if you’ve respected my request to not talk to me about it; if you’ve kept me in your thoughts; if you’ve done your best; and of course, if you’re one of the people who contributed to this blog post; thank you for being a part of this incredible network of people in my life, and this is for you.
My best friend who I met after being raped says,
“My friend was raped by one of her best friends when she was in high school. Ever since learning about this, I have done my best to be as supportive to her as possible, and I have learned a lot along the way.
It is incredibly painful to watch one of the people you care most about suffering on levels deeper than you can understand and not be able to take away her pain or undo the horrible crime that has been committed against her and that will forever haunt her. On my friend’s worst days, I often feel both upset – in empathy and due to my own feelings about everything she’s gone through – but also hesitant, not wanting to say the wrong thing and make things worse, but not wanting to say too little and leave her feeling alone. However, what I have learned from talking with my friend is that just being willing to listen and provide encouragement or even just an “I hear you” can make a huge impact.
Being a supportive friend to a rape survivor is full of challenges. It can be hard to cope with feelings of anger and helplessness, knowing that someone out there is fully responsible for completely derailing your friend’s life, and in my case, knowing that that person has faced no consequences for his actions up to this day. It can be difficult to determine what the best thing to do for your friend is at that moment.
If I were asked for advice for friends of rape survivors, I would say the two most important things are to effectively communicate that you are willing to listen, and to not let your fear of saying the wrong thing keep you from reaching out. While I feel I have made the former quite clear to my friend, the latter is something I still struggle with at times. I just have to remind myself that there is no handbook of rules for how to be supportive to a rape survivor. The worst thing you can do is to remain silent. Even if you are not close enough to a person to become one of their primary sources of support, you can still make a huge difference just by acknowledging that they are being heard and seen.
I wish so much that my friend had never been raped. I hate to learn about the endless ways it makes her life so much harder than it should be. But this is her reality, and she does not have to deal with everything on her own. It is important to keep in mind that part of being a friend to a rape survivor involves acknowledging and discussing some really dark and upsetting emotions, but being there for the worst of it means you can also be there for the good days. Being a friend to a rape survivor can feel like an emotional roller coaster, but it is nothing compared to what your friend is going through, and if you make an effort even just to listen and be present, you can show them that they are not alone.”
My best friend who knew me before being raped says,
“The advice I have for friends of rape survivors is to listen and tell them you believe them. That truly is the most important thing you must do. If you love your friend, do not question them. Your mind may race, your heart will break because there is nothing you can do at that moment but listen. I always want to say more, or say that I wish for my friend’s rapist to be dead or to suffer. And then I think if that would help my friend, and I realize that it won’t. I realize it’s not about me, nor should it be that I could wish for a way to relieve my friend’s pain aloud. I don’t think that helps. So, my advice for you friends of survivors, is to sit and hurt with them. There will be the people who don’t listen to them and who will tell them that they don’t believe them. It’s evil. So be the good. Sit there with them and let the pain of knowing what they’re going through wash through you. Let it teach you to be mindful of how other survivors are treated – either through horrible jokes that promote rape culture, to judges deciding that a rapist’s life is more important than a survivor. Remember the pain when you speak to others and when you vote. Remember that this is what your friend lives with every day, and be mindful of your words and actions. Be compassionate, and put someone else before yourself.
I hurt for her. My heart breaks for her every time. It also fills with a nearly homicidal rage, but that’s secondary. However, since time has gone on, I’ve been inspired by her resilience in the face of this. She has chosen to live and confront this in every way that she can, while she continues to be the best friend someone could ask for. She would have done this regardless of the crime, but I watch her do what she can for others after it and I am reminded more of her strength.
On days that are hard for me or her I tell myself to just keep listening. Keep thinking of what is the best that you can do to support them. I don’t know how to explain it but there are times that you will know what to do, and others you are at a loss. Just keep going.
To care for myself on those hard days I read quotes related to various topics. The last time we spoke of the crime and criminal, I picked up a copy of Speak and started to look for something that related to how I was feeling, until I had calmed. And, then I prayed for wisdom and for peace.
I have not had to set any boundaries or limits. There were times I was concerned that I should, but I found that trusting her intuition was best.
From being the friend of a rape survivor I think I learned what it takes to love someone. I mean, I loved her deeply before I knew of the crime and before I knew that it was a crime. But this really taught me how to not be selfish. I hate that this is what it took, but that is the small dim light I see. I learned that it takes time, when I used to focus on speed and becoming faster. I learned to take time to reflect and to feel and to try to understand. I learned to take time to read everything that she has written and time to respond. Love and time are intertwined. In a fast-moving world, taking time to master your own emotions and sort through your thoughts, takes effort and discipline. I’d give her all of it if it made a larger difference. So, I guess, in conclusion, I’ve learned how to love her deeper. Or at least, I’ve learned how to try to love someone better.”
My boyfriend says,
“This may not come as a surprise, but going into my relationship with Ashley, I had little knowledge of sexual abuse and rape. There was a lot of learning to be done if I wanted to be able to understand and if I wanted to help, and I wanted both of those things. Thankfully, Ashley found that sexual healing book, and it helped not only her, but me tremendously. The book not only gave me facts and knowledge about rape and sexual healing, but it opened up so many conversations with Ashley about what she experienced and still experiences. If you aren’t able to find a book that can help you in the same way, at least try to converse and seek to understand with your partner. I think that all the communicating that Ashley and I needed to have at the beginning of our relationship has made us (or at least me) better communicators.
My piece of advice for partners of rape survivors is to make sure that you have a support system in place for yourself. As you support and help your partner, you will feel their pain, and it will become your own. Their problems become yours, in a way, and they want help from you, so it makes sense that you should have someone to help listen and be there for you when you need it. Having a support system helps you, it helps you help your partner, and it will help the relationship.
Also, it is helpful for so many reasons for the surviving partner to have a support system greater than just you or themselves. Ashley accomplished a great deal of healing all by herself, and she still does today. I help her how I can, and I think I have been a big help. Ashley has other friends that she can lean on and seek advice from, and it helps a lot. The great thing about her support system is that it gives her multiple points of views to consider when seeking advice, and it provides her with the love and support she needs when she needs it. Ash has also started seeing a therapist recently, and I think that has been helpful too.
Even though it is important to have time for yourself in other relationships, I find that it is especially important for me to have time for myself in this relationship. It is helpful for me to have this time not only to recharge myself from work, socializing, and helping my partner with any problems she is facing, but to also help me keep my identity. I think at times when I didn’t have this balance I was feeling burned out from working, helping, and doing errands, that I was not taking care of me and being the person that my partner fell in love with and who I like to be. You need to make sure that you don’t get lost in this healing process. Make sure that you stay the person that you and your partner both love.
It is also important that you have a romantic relationship. I think it can be easy to feel like you are a therapist or that you are somehow responsible as a partner to give all of yourself as only support. Being there for your partner and helping is obviously important to the healing process, but just as important is that you have a real romantic relationship. Ashley and I have a really good balance, I think. We have a two person (sometimes three) book club, we see movies, we have our shows that we watch together as well as our shows that we don’t watch together but we watch them at the same time, we laugh, we talk like idiots, we pet our cats, we hang out with our friends, and so much more. Make sure that you stay in the relationship that you both love.”