It’s hard to know what to do when someone close to you is a victim of sexual assault. Sexuality is such a taboo topic on its own, and mixed in with a healthy dose of the rape culture that we’re inundated with every day, knowing the right thing to say is hard.
Here are seven things that you should definitely NOT say to a rape victim, taken from my own experiences and what I’ve heard from others who have been assaulted.
“Are you sure it was rape?”
I will slap you across the face if you say this. A lot of victims of sexual assault doubt themselves enough as it is, especially if they were raped by someone that they knew (which most are). We do NOT need you to add to it.
“Were you drinking?”
This is probably the number one question I’ve been asked. It’s like people want to be able to nod sagely and say, “Ah, yes, well that’s why you were raped. You were drinking.” No, I was raped because someone raped me. That’s it. Whether a person was drunk or sober or high, it doesn’t matter. It’s not their fault. Also, pro tip: One of the characteristics of consensual sex is that both partners be sober.
Wow, no. Don’t say this. What a person was wearing or who s/he was flirting with doesn’t give anyone a right to that person’s body. Nothing gives someone a right to another person’s body. End of story.
“Why didn’t you scream/fight back?”
Fun fact: It’s not that easy. Shock can set it and you won’t know what to do. You won’t believe this is happening. Or maybe you’ll just be scared of what else they could do to you, and you’ll think, “If I let them do this, they’ll let me go.” I know rape victims who have fought back, and I know victims who haven’t. You don’t get to shame them just because of what you think you’d do in that situation.
“Don’t tell anyone/tell this person/tell the police.”
You don’t get to tell someone what they should do. You don’t get to tell them to silence themselves or to speak out. They get to decide when they’re ready to talk, if at all. Do you know how incredibly terrifying it is to go to the police about this? Have you heard the stories about rape victims who aren’t believed and who get dragged through the mud in court, assuming their case gets that far? If someone wants to go to the police, that’s great, that’s brave, and you should encourage them and be by their side. But if they don’t? Don’t pressure them. It’s not your place to decide for them.
“It was [x amount of time] ago. Why aren’t you over it?”
Remember how you don’t get to tell someone whether or not they should talk about their assault? Yeah, you also don’t get to tell them how long it should take them to heal. That varies wildly and it never really goes away.
“You’re just doing this for attention.”
One of the most upsetting parts of hearing the stories of rape victims is how often they’re not believed by their friends and family. I don’t know anyone who would want this kind of attention. Please refer to this handy-dandy chart:
What about what you should say to a rape victim? I can’t speak for every person out there who’s been assaulted, but I can tell you based on the many victims that I’ve talked to that this is one of the hardest facts for us to get our heads around. Most of us will battle it for a long time. If there’s one thing that you should say, it’s this:
“It’s not your fault.”