How to Support a Friend
Everyone reacts differently to a rape. Some people will want to talk about it while others will not, and it is important to be sensitive to your friend’s needs. You might assume that your friend won’t want to talk about it, but this is not always the case. Your friend may be feeling extremely isolated and really need support.
It is most helpful for you to be supportive in whatever your friend chooses to do with regard to reporting the incident. You should also be aware that your friend might distance herself from you or want to be alone. Don’t take this personally and if it seems appropriate, give your friend space.
It might be difficult for you to watch your friend suffer and know that you can’t do anything, so in these cases one of the few things you can do is to make sure that your friend knows that you are there, that you unwaveringly support them, and that you want to do your best to understand what they are going through.
In some cases, supporting a friend will mean finding someone who can help them in a way that you cannot. This might include leading them to seek professional help from rape treatment centers, counselors or law enforcement. If your friend has not opened up to you, but you are aware that something occurred, you should consider talking to them and possibly an authority figure.
Psychological Consequences of Rape
How a person responds to rape differs from person to person. Some react immediately, while others may not manifest any signs of distress until much later.
Sexual assault victims are often in a state of shock following the attack. This can be a coping mechanism and for a while they may feel numb or disconnected. Sometimes this can delay the identification of the event as an assault.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Many victims of sexual assault develop PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intense nightmares
If you develop these symptoms, it is important to seek counseling. These symptoms can interfere with work and school. No one should have to go through this alone, and a counselor or therapist can be of great assistance.
Self-Blame, Doubt, Guilt and Shame
It is often difficult to acknowledge helplessness and to admit to a lack of control. This, coupled with the stigma associated with rape, makes many victims feel intense guilt and shame about the assault. Victims might feel as though they could have stopped the assault in some way, that they didn’t resist enough, or that their perceptions of the event are wrong. This is a normal reaction and it is important to remember that rape is never the victim’s fault.
Even persons who have never experienced sexual assault can still fight to stop it. Both women and men play an integral part in the fight against sexual violence. As more people become involved, the code of silence that surrounds sexual assault will be chipped away.
What You Can Do:
–Make sure that your school addresses the issue of sexual assault and takes allegations of sexual assault seriously when an incident is reported.
–Be aware of campaigns that are going on around the country. There are currently efforts underway to make sure that all rape kits are tested. DNA contained in these kits can prove the guilt of rapists and lead to their imprisonment, but in many states there is a backlog of untested rape kits.
–Help the efforts to change the FBI’s definition of rape. The FBI’s definition which has remained unchanged since 1927, defines rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook, 2004). This antiquated definition excludes rape in the case of coercion, intimidation, forced oral or anal sex, male on male rape, rape with an object, statutory rape, or rape when a woman is unable to reasonably give consent due to intoxication. It is imperative that this limited definition be updated so that all rapes are counted.
–Visit the Feminist Majority Foundation to be kept up to date on relevant campaigns.
If you have been sexually assaulted or raped, there are hotlines you can call to get help. These calls are confidential and can help you make an informed decision on how to move forward.
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN):
Telephone Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE
Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center
A notable rape treatment center is the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica- UCLA Medical Center. They also have a child advocacy center.
Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center
1250 Sixteenth Street
Santa Monica, California 90404
If you are in immediate danger, dial 911.
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