Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to address that headline… “Damaged Goods.” Is that really how we think of women who have been victims of some form of sexual assault? Unfortunately, a lot of the time the answer is yes, and I for one think that this needs to change. The reality is more staggering than you can imagine. Each year there are close to 300,000 sexual assaults in the U.S alone with most of these going unreported. What that means is, that number could be even higher.
The truth is that the majority of women have experienced sexual assault in one form or another at some point in their lives. This doesn’t mean every woman walking the streets has been a victim of rape (though the numbers on that are shocking as well), but most have been victims in some sense. Whether it’s rape, unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment or anything else of the sort, most women have an experience involving their sexuality they’d rather not share. For me, this topic hits home. Many of my best friends happen to be women, and for one reason or another they have all confided in me at some point. I’d like to say that the idea of hearing these stories gets easier with time, but the truth is I always find myself infuriated at whoever the perpetrator may have been. I find myself asking questions like;
“Who would do this?”
“Why wouldn’t you come forward?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
But as I’ve met more and more people and encountered more stories like these, I’ve learned quite a few things. The most important being how similar many of these stories are, and what it says about the person who’s finally able to share it with you.
This is an article for men who may be in the dark regarding this topic. It seems many of my own guy friends are oblivious to this disturbing trend. If this sounds like you, or you’ve recently found yourself in a situation wondering, “How do I deal with this?” then take a few minutes and learn from my own experience. Whether it’s your best friend, your girlfriend, fiancée or wife, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you deal with receiving this new information, and what you can take away from it.
DON’T JUST HEAR… LISTEN
When a woman you care about (who cares about you) decides to open up to you, it’s usually not something done casually and in passing. If you find yourself in this situation and you don’t know how to process things, the best advice I can give you is simply don’t DO anything. Realise that this isn’t easy for her, but she cares enough about you that she wants you to know. When someone opens up to you with this type of story, it takes a lot of courage and this can be a huge step in a relationship. The best thing you can do is hear her out and don’t interject. Let her tell you in her own time.
DON’T PITY HER… SHE DOESN’T NEED YOUR PITY
It was during my time at college when a woman opened up to me about a sexual assault in her past. This was the first time I had experienced anything like this. She was my best friend at the time, and being only 18, I simply didn’t know how to handle it. As I grew up, I found that many women had been involved in situations of these sorts when they were younger. Statistics show that the majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and many times someone older. This means by the time this person is opening up to you, this is something that happened a long time ago. That doesn’t by any means make it easier, it simply means that they’ve spent those years trying to deal with it. What they need from you is for you to understand how it has shaped them. They don’t want a solution from you, they just want you to know and to understand this difficult part of their life.
SHE’S STRONGER BECAUSE OF IT
This is not to say that women can’t be strong and independent without trauma. But it is important to know that being faced with such an ordeal does not make one weaker. I can’t speak for every woman who’s ever been assaulted, but the ones I’ve known have all shared one similar quality; strength. Unfortunately, many women never get over the issues associated with it. And even the ones who get “over” it, are never really over it.
What they share however is a belief that they are stronger than their circumstance and they will not let one situation change the person they want to be. For some women it takes years and for others not as long, but just know if she’s telling you these things it means (to some extent) that she wants your support, that she is dealing with it and she is not letting it define her.
SHE DOESN’T WANT THIS TO CHANGE THINGS
“I don’t want you to think any differently of me.” This is something I’ve heard uttered far too many times in past relationships, and again when I was younger, I didn’t quite know how to process it. My first thought used to be, “But you were raped, how could this NOT change things?” but the truth is, it’s not about you, it’s about her. If someone feels close enough to share this information with you and your view of them changes, then you probably didn’t deserve to be confided with. If your view of her is to change, it should be for the better. She doesn’t want to be viewed as a victim and if those are your first thoughts, then you have some growing up to do. However, if you see her through a new filter, admire her courage and stand by her side in silent support, then you just affirm the reason she trusted you in the first place.
Whether you know it or not, in relationships past or future, there’s a high chance you’ve been or will be with someone who has been a victim of sexual assault. Remember that her situation doesn’t change the person she has become. Remember that she’s telling you this because she trusts you and because she wants you to know.
If you’ve been affected by this situation, make a change of your own. Remember how it felt when someone you cared about opened up to you about this for the first time. Realise if we want to stop this trend, it starts with us.
We can’t change the past, but if we really care for the beautiful women in our lives; we can hold each other accountable for a better future.
And remember ladies, you’re beautiful, because you’re you, and no one can take that away from you.