How To Be Friends With A Rape Victim
She Needs A Friend
Regardless of how long you have actually known her, this girl seems to have been in your life forever. You cannot imagine life without her and you certainly cannot imagine not talking to her when something in your life goes awry. Indisputably, you would be there for her, without question, night or day, no matter what. She is your best friend, your sister, she is family (blood or not). It goes without saying that you feel it will never come to her needing you that bad, but if she did, you would be there.
Then one day she does need you like that. One day you find that she needs very much to talk to you right away. Aside from murder, the worst possible thing happened to her and she is looking to you for something you do not know you have. She was raped and you are lost. Inside you are shaken to your core, thousands of thoughts racing through your muddled head. Terrifyingly strong emotions fire up-anger, sorrow, fear, sympathy, hatred. Somebody has hurt her and you want revenge and justice. If feelings alone could elicit a guilty conviction, you would be all over that. The reality is that emotions rarely help solve anything and you feel helpless.
Being that she is your friend, you know whether she needs a cooling-off period, some time to be alone before preparing to involve others or whether she needs a strong shoulder to lean on. It may be difficult for her to express what it is that she needs, especially as she may not really know. It is likely, and hopefully, a situation that she is unfamiliar with as well. Your loyalty to her is crucial for her at this time. She just experienced the ultimate betrayal (whether or not she knew her attacker) and she needs to feel she can trust again. That is why she turned to you. The biggest question that remains for you is the how of it. How can you help her? What can you do for her? What should you do for her?
Right off the bat, you need to know that the chances of a conviction are highest if she does not shower right away. The best chances of getting ‘clean’ evidence occur within the first 72 hours, providing she can stand to not shower or bathe while making up her mind. Evidence can be retrieved from her body up to six days later but it does deteriorate the longer she waits. Despite any initial hesitation or confusion, encourage her to at least take the clothes she was wearing, underwear and socks included, and bag them up. Forensic science is a beautiful thing and those unwashed clothes will help her to tell her story.
With the legalities out of the way, be the best listener you have ever been. Let her talk at her own pace, prod her only if you know she is looking for it. Listen for the things she does not say, read her body language, that will be a bigger tell than anything she may or may not verbalize. Be careful about touching her. The two of you may have hugged or otherwise had regular body contact with one another out of a familiarity but it may be too much for her at that time. Then again, being held, maybe even cradled or rocked gently, by somebody that she trusts may be just what she needs. This is a personal call only she can make and she is deeply hoping you know her well enough to read the signs.
Recognize that she is not likely thinking about needing food or water at this time but that she needs it. Even if it is only crackers and tap water, she needs something in her system. She also needs rest even though sleep is unlikely. Just the act of laying down should help. When she is ready to be left alone, if even for a brief time, use that time to gather information. Contact any and all local resources and procure as much literature on the subject as possible. Most communities have a toll free hotline and areas that really care about their citizens should have a rape crisis center. Often it is located within the same building or close proximity of the nearest domestic violence shelter. Bring her all of that information. Let her know what her choices are and where she can go for professional help if she wants it.
It is important that she knows that you support her and that she is not alone. It is equally important that she knows that it does not matter what the circumstances were, no always means no and she was not at fault. Regardless of what she decides to do and how you feel about it, let her know that you are there for her. Do not judge her harshly if she chooses not to report it. Having to relive that experience over and over in front of people she does not know is a scary proposition, especially if it goes to trial and she has to face him again, assuming that they would be able to find him.
Likewise, do not assume that she is strong enough to handle the proceedings like she would any other challenge in her life. This experience took more from her than she may realize and it will take more from her before all is said and done. Other people will talk, they always do, and it will not always be in her favor. There is still an unspoken social stigma attached to victims of this horrible crime and those that are too narrow minded and/or lazy to hear both sides of the story are likely to brand her in an uncompassionate manner. This is when she is going to need you the most. She will need reassurance that she is doing the right thing. She will need to be reminded sometimes that she is not the guilty party. As her friend, it is up to you to try to deflect as much of the nasty rumors as possible while helping her to find some form of healthy outlet for her anger, grief, and pain.
Specifically, she may not know what she wants from you any more than you know what to do for her. Being forced to have the most intimate relations with somebody she did not consent to is a crime that is so much more than physical. For the offender, the act is done and over with when they finish and walk away. For her, she may spend years healing from the emotional scars that developed as a result. Every situation is unique. The severity of the crime vary and the way she handles it vary from victim to victim. She may need to change jobs, beef up home security, get a new phone, change her entire social agenda, changer her appearance, or even move. Be there for her, help her find that sense of security again. That is what she needs. Your loyalty, support, and belief in her. That is how you can be a friend to a rape victim.