Tuesday, August 11, 2009

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Survivor

I've seen a large number of counsellors and psychologists/psychiatrists since I was assaulted. There's a sort of grim humour in the stuff I hear. I have to laugh. I have to laugh at the fact that I know how to treat sexual assault victims better than people that have spent years in university ostensibly learning how to be mental health professionals. There are good ones out there, I just don't have the money to see them. Anyway, point being - sometimes, we assault victims talk about our experiences. There are certain things we want to hear, and then there's a buttload of things we don't. Here's a few of them.

10. Why didn't you [shout/scream/call for help]? Okay. You know when you have a really scary dream, and everything slows down in that dream? It's like you can't run fast enough, you can't move quickly enough, before whatever you're terrified of gets you? Rape/Sexual Assault is JUST LIKE THAT. Except you CAN'T WAKE UP. You can't move. You can't say anything. I don't know why it's like that. I haven't had anyone counsel me about that part of my experience and it's something I sit up at night wondering about. Your average rape victim will also feel this way, more often than not. It's a trigger, and it lays the blame for their attack at their feet. So DON'T ASK THIS QUESTION.

9. Why didn't you hit him/run? This is 10's yucky cousin. Like 10, there is no answer. It's just the way it happens. Fear paralyses you. It's a survival response. Moving on.

8. Maybe you should take up a self-defense course? No. I would love to take up a self defense course, but that's more confidence and health related than anything. And remember what I said about fear being paralytic? Even black-belts get raped.

7. Don't ask what the person did before the rape. Not during the rape, not after the rape. The victim/survivor will talk about it if they need to.

6. Don't criticise. You'd think that one is straight forward, but I've been criticised by two mental health professionals. It happens.

5. Don't ask for proof/details. Even if you're doubtful, don't vocalise that to the victim/survivor. Also keep in mind that very, VERY few rape/assault accusations are false. If a person has gone to the trouble of making an accusation, they probably fucking well mean it. You don't make that decision lightly. I agonised over whether to share the truth of my assault. I didn't just make the accusation because I didn't like the guy. It's a serious situation that often reflects BADLY on the victim/survivor, so if they claim they've been hurt in this way, they probably have. You just feel like you're going mad if you can't announce the truth and throw off the blame.

4. Don't pressure them to go to the police/try to push a charge. The priority of a victim is to survive. Living from day to day after an assault is a struggle, a horrible thing I hope you never, ever have to understand (and my deepest love and sadness if you do). It is something the victim/survivor has to choose for themselves. There's a lot of emotional/psychological hurdles involved in going to the police. I myself didn't cause I knew I could never get my charge to stick. It would basically be he said/she said, and in this patriarchal society, he said has more credence than she said. Don't lay the guilt at their feet if their attacker hurts someone again. IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. Yet the guilt and shame of "Letting the rapist get away with it" is very often laid at the previous victim's feet, sometimes unknowingly with such comments as, "But you have to stop him" or "What about the women he hurts in the future?"

3. Don't question their coping mechanisms. Sometimes victims/survivors do some seemingly odd things to cope with their newfound trauma. I liked watching lots of childish videos, colouring in pictures, and wearing covering clothes. Some lock all doors, or put a chair up against their bedroom door. Some never wear certain sorts of shoes again (so they can run better) or they might avoid certain kinds of movies or media. It might seem strange, but it's what they gotta do to get by. Support them.

2. Don't lament in this change in behaviour. Don't say, "Oh, but you used to be so full of life" or "You're not the person you used to be." I know I was paranoid and depressed that I had changed. I haven't changed, I am still the same person. I'm just a little scarred emotionally, that's all.

1. Don't make rape jokes. You'd think this would be straight forward. Once, I revealed that I had been assaulted to someone. Later in the conversation, they made a rape joke. I felt like vomiting right there at the table. I ran off into the restroom of the cafe and shat myself from the storm of adrenaline and anxiety that had rocketed through my body as a result. Rape jokes are RARELY OKAY. Grim gallows humour between survivors: Good. Every other rape joke in existence: BAD. BAD BAD BAD. DON'T DO IT. It's NOT EDGY. IT'S DOUCHY. DON'T DO IT!

This website will tell you good things to say if a friend has been hurt in this way.

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