Since #MeToo took over the internet last year, more and more people have come forward to share their stories of sexual abuse. You might have been shocked, as I was, by the number of friends and followers who posted their own contributions to the cause.
It’s awful to think of how commonplace sexual assault has always been, and how hard it is for victims to speak up about it. Thankfully, things are slowly starting to change. Statistics state that 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused. That means that at some point, you will likely date someone who has been.
Here are some suggestions for how to handle yourself in the event that she decides to share her story with you.
Listen without Interruption
Resist the urge to comment while she’s talking. Even if it takes a while for her to get it all out, even if talking about it makes her emotional—just listen. There’s comfort in having someone sit with you in your pain. Saying things like, “I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you” or “That happened to my sister, and I beat the guy up” only serve to divert the subject matter away from her.
Don’t say anything until she’s finished, and even then, keep your comments focused on her feelings, no matter how raw they might be. Your job is just to honor her experience. You don’t have to fix anything.
Don’t say things like, “Are you sure that’s what happened?” or “Dude must’ve been drunk, right?” Even if you feel shocked at what she’s sharing, take it at face value. It’s not easy for people to share the details of their abuse. Some choose not to share at all, for fear that their integrity will be questioned, or that they’ll be blamed for somehow causing it in the first place.
It’s not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to hear comments like, “You wore a short skirt and went home with him. Were you not asking for it?” The fact is, if she felt she was assaulted, she’s right. No one has the right to question her experience.
Ask What She Needs from You
There’s a reason she’s opening up to you, but please don’t presume to know what that reason is. She might feel that she can trust you, or she might want you to understand why she’s a little hesitant to take things to the next level physically. Although her story might fill you with rage, she probably doesn’t want you to head out on a vigilante manhunt for the guy that hurt her.
The best thing you can do is ask her what she needs. If she just wants you to listen and do nothing more, respect that. Honor the fact that she knows what’s best for her. Don’t try to impose your healing strategy on her. Saying things like, “You have to move on with your life” or “You’re fine now.” is basically akin to saying, “Your way of dealing with this is ineffective. Here’s what I think you should do”. No mature adult wants to hear that.
Encourage Her to Take the Lead Sexually
Wait for her to make a move, or until she expressly states that she wants you to do it. Being sexually assaulted takes away a woman’s power. One way to help her take it back is to give her complete control over what’s happening between the sheets. This might take patience, especially if you’re used to initiating. If you care for her and are up for the challenge, have at it.
If, on the other hand, you foresee yourself growing frustrated, be honest about that. She deserves to be with someone who is right for her at this particular moment in time. It’s worse to start out as an understanding, no-pressure dude, only to turn resentful and needy down the road. Your friendship might just be the most valuable thing you can offer her, and there’s nothing wrong with that.