The most important thing that you can do is to believe your friend’s story and validate whatever feelings s/he is sharing with you. This is a very traumatic experience and many times the survivor will feel very dirty, unable to feel clean even after multiple showers. Your friend may well feel guilty because s/he will feel that s/he “asked” for it in some way, because the perpetrator will have told your friend s/he did. Understand that when someone is in a heightened emotional state as is true in this case, whatever is heard will go right into the unconscious mind and will be remembered in the same way that the message was delivered, quite literally.
The truth of the matter is that rape is an act of violence where the sex is used as a vehicle for gaining power and control with force, fear or violence making the survivor fearful for his/her safety.
The feelings are even more confused if the rape was done by someone with whom s/he felt trust, with feelings of being betrayed adding to the shock of it all.
If the rape just happened it is best to get to an emergency room to have tests done for any sexually transmitted disease as well as be checked out for any other physical harm.
If this was a rape that happened years ago, and s/he is feeling badly about it, here are some useful suggestions for you to handle the situation with sensitivity without placing too much pressure on yourself:
Listen to your friend without any judgement. All too often victims of rape are not believed even though one in four women will experience it in their life times. I have found that about half the woman who have come in to see me who have been raped, have had it happen to them multiple times throughout their life times. In most of those cases it happened with multiple males in their lives. So, sadly this is a very common problem in our culture. Also, note that about 10% of all victims are men, so it can and does happen to them also. When men are raped, they may have a fear of becoming gay because they may become physically aroused during the attack. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t imply that the victim “wanted” it. Men are socially developed to believe that they are immune to being sexually attacked leaving them feeling more isolated.
Allow the survivor to be in control as the story is told. Allow the survivor to take as much time as is needed and to release any emotions. Crying is a natural response, so just be a comfort to your friend as best you can.
Most of all do your best to never betray your friend’s trust. If your friend desires to press charges, that needs to be your friend’s decision. Most times charges are not made because of the fear that was placed in the victim by the perpetrator to harm the victim and their family if they ever tell anyone. Also, telling the story in front of a courtroom is an unpleasant experience and many people would rather put the whole event behind them as best they can instead of going through a couple of years of legal action.
Lastly, if your friend is very upset and seems to need to talk about the rape, your best course of action is to have your friend seek out some professional help to process what happened.
A great place to start is The National Sexual Assault Hotline which is available 24/7 at 1-800-656-HOPE and online at: https://ohl.rainn.org/online/ . There is much information on the RAINN website about how to deal with this issue as well as how to prevent rape from happening.
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