Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Significant Others (Rape Awareness Month)

Like my previous rape awareness posts, this one has the potential to be triggering.

The rape counseling program at Listening Ear didn't just offer counseling and services to survivors of rape. We offered those same services to significant others, by which we meant anyone close enough to the survivor to be affected and need our support: boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, family members, close friends, etc.

I've been the significant other far too often. For myself, there's a lot of anger and pain, as well as an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Nothing I do can change or fix what happened, or make the pain go away for the other person.

One thing I saw a lot when talking to significant others was a need to make the survivor take steps to "fix" things. "I want to make her report it to the police, but she won't listen to me," or "I want to kick the guy's ass, but she won't tell me who it was," or even "She just needs to stop thinking about it and try to move on."

The trouble is, these things are about making me (the significant other) feel better. I feel powerless and angry, so I try to regain my sense of power by telling the survivor what to do ... which means now I'm the one trying to control her. Rape strips control and power from the victim. How does it help that person regain a sense of control if I'm saying, "This is what you must do. You have to report this to the police, and if you don't, you're letting the rapist get away with it and it's your fault if he rapes someone else and you have to get him off the street!"

It can be damned hard to accept that choice. I've had to sit at the same table with guys who raped people I loved, guys who got away with it. I also know that with the way our justice system works, there's no way they would have been convicted. I know the process would have put my friends through hell all over again. (See The Rape of Mr. Smith for one fairly mild example of how the legal system tends to treat rape survivors.)

Telling someone "It wasn't your fault" or even just "I believe you" never feels like enough. And it's not ... but it can help. Listening helps. Letting the person be in whatever space they need to be in right now helps. You might be the first one the survivor has talked to. You might be the first one who didn't immediately ask, "Why were you drinking?" or "Why did you dance with him if you didn't want to lead him on?" or any one of a hundred other things that tell the person, "It's your fault he did this to you." It always amazed and saddened me how many people would say "You're the first person to tell me this wasn't my fault."

It's a lot to listen to, and it hurts to hear. And it's okay to share that, to say you're hurting too, or you feel helpless or angry or whatever. Not trying to take the other person's feelings away or make it all about you, but just sharing that they're not alone in feeling hurt and scared and overwhelmed.

Likewise, it's okay if you need to talk to someone too, so long as you're not betraying the survivor's trust. That's one reason I liked our counseling center. The hotline was completely anonymous, which meant you could talk and get some support without breaking that confidentiality. For myself, I always feel tremendous pressure to try to take care of the other person and provide what support I can. It was eye-opening to learn I was allowed to take care of myself as well.

There were other things I had to learn. I tend to be a pretty huggy guy, but sometimes offering a hug of comfort is the last thing the other person wants. I'm just trying to be supportive, but it's also true that I'm another guy trying to put my arms around the other person. And once again, that hug was as much for my comfort as for hers.

What I learned, both through training and in my personal life, was to listen. To let the person know I believed them, and that it wasn't their fault. (Though it's normal for rape survivors to feel guilty and responsible, and it's not helpful to get into an argument about that. It's one thing to know it's not your fault, but that doesn't change the feelings.) To offer options, but not to try to force them. If the other person wanted to go to the police, I was willing to go with them, but it's not my job to force it. To try to be patient, to understand that there's no timeline or schedule to recovery. And that this hurts me too, and it's okay to take care of myself sometimes.

These are just my experiences. As always, other thoughts and feedback are very much welcome.


Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
No, I guess I didn't make myself clear. Rape for any reason is wrong, hot and heavy or whatever.

In the Mr. Smith analogy, if he went into a biker bar in a fancy suit, reeking of booze and slapped a stack of hundreds on the table, you would expect something to happen. In fact, many prosecutors would probably claim he was enticing a robbery. He should have known better than to be in the biker bar in the first place, and that his behaviour was outrageous, and likely to lead to a robbery. A prosecutor would in all likelihood never prosecute that. However, say a stripper went to the bar (maybe she was hired for a stag or something) and was raped, there would definitely be prosecutions.

I guess what I'm saying is that the Mr. Smith analogy is being used to make one point, when it makes the opposing point equally well. Analogies like Mr. Smith make us think of gray areas, when in fact, with rape, there ARE NO GRAY AREAS. Rape is wrong. Period.
Apr. 23rd, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
While you don't want to extend the Smith analogy to rape, some people actually do, and examine those gray areas you talk about. Smith in his expensive suit going to a biker bar is the equivalent of a woman, provocatively dressed, going into a bar.

Did Smith dress like that because he wants to be robbed? He's just asking for it!

So's our woman in her too short skirt, revealing cleavage.

Of course rape is wrong. The assumption that people who behave a certain way in any scenario should expect violence may be what people analyze after the fact, but it doesn't justify violence and robbery, any more than it justifies rape. That's victim blaming.

Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)
Well, Smith slapping down a wad of hundreds on the bar might be equivalent to a stripper doing a show in a biker bar by herself. Any reasonable person should know that that is dangerous behaviour.

There should be some penalty for idiocy. After all, I would have to pay for Mr. Smith's lack of common sense, by paying for police, court costs, etc, etc.

I'm not saying violence is an appropriate penalty, but somehow we need to encourage people to exercise some discretion.
Apr. 27th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
We do need to be alert to risk, but once we have reached adulthood we are expected to be in charge of our actions. Someone having something you don't doesn't give you the right to take it.

And if it's okay for these things to happen in a bar, then how long until they are okay to do in the middle of broad daylight? Society only holds together as long as we agree to follow the same rules.
Apr. 27th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Certainly, we are expected to be in charge of our actions. In the above example, you are referring to the bikers, but I believe that Mr. Smith also has to take some responsibility for his inappropriate behaviour.

Now, I'm not by any means suggestions that Mr. Smith should have to be the target of violence, or that I'm condoning violence as a consequence of doing stupid things, but why should I, an uninterested third party, have to pay for Mr. Smith's lack of common sense?


Jim C. Hines


Page Summary

Latest Month

October 2019
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow