It’s a terrible thing, but rapes do happen, and although annual rape statistics have fallen more than 60% over the last decade, we still need to be conscious of sexual predators.
We hear about rapes on the news or around town, but we never really think about that woman’s husband or boyfriend. How is their relationship affected by the rape? And what should a significant other do to help a woman who has had this most terrible of experiences?
When I was in college, I dated a woman who was raped while we were seeing each other, and it was the most heartbreaking experience I have ever endured. Of course, it was thousands of times more traumatic for her, but I have never felt so helpless in any other situation. She was victimized by someone she didn’t know, and when we parted ways, the police had not caught him. So not only did she have to live with that memory for the rest of her life, but she was also not granted closure on the experience.
Having been through this once, though I am far from an expert, here is my advice for men whose wives or girlfriends have been raped:
1. Encourage her to report it.
Experts say that at least 40% of rapes go unreported because victims are too scared or traumatized to go the police. The likelihood of the rapist getting away scott-free increases if the victim knew her attacker, because she is afraid that no one will believe her if she tells. Let your wife or girlfriend know that you will accompany her to the police station, and that you will hold her hand the entire way and protect her from any harm. That alone will be a great comfort to her.
2. Don’t discourage her from talking.
It may be difficult for you to hear, but if she wants to talk, let her. Provide an open ear for her concerns, doubts, fears and memories, and don’t get angry, as much as you know you would like to bash her attacker’s face in. It won’t help, and it will only stunt the healing process; she needs to discuss it in a neutral and calming forum.
3. Accompany her at night.
Most rape victims are terrified of leaving the house after dark, and sometimes at all. Whether she needs to go to the grocery store or the dry cleaners or even to a friend’s, offer to escort her so that she has some measure of protection. This might continue for months – even years – but you’ll have to be patient.
4. Insist she see a doctor.
Rape victims often experience damage to the sexual organs following rape because it is usually violent. Make sure that she sees a doctor even if the rape goes unreported – the doctor must maintain confidentiality – to check for STD’s, tissue trauma, pregnancy and other damage. The doctor can also do a rape kit, which involves looking for trace and toxicological evidence for the police to pursue.
5. Recommend Therapy
If your wife or girlfriend seems to be dealing with her rape in a healthy and normal way, then this may not be an issue. However, if weeks pass and she cannot come to terms with what has happened to her, it might be best to get her to a therapist. Rape victims suffer from a wealth of emotions, including guilt, hatred, sense of responsibility, helplessness, and fear; a therapist can help her to identify and work through these emotions.
6. Advocate her emotions.
She may have no reason to feel guilty or helpless, but don’t condemn these emotions; instead, advocate them. Let her know that she has every right to feel the way she does, but that the rape was not her fault, and she did everything she could to prevent it. Tell her that thousands of women have gone through the same thing, and that it was her attacker’s fault, and not her own. Dismissing her emotions – as irrational as they may seem to you – could be dangerous, and is simply not far.