Monday, September 20, 2010

Speaking Out: How to Make Life Easier for Rape Survivors

In case you haven't heard or read about it, some guy wrote an article calling the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson "soft pornography" and called for parents to 'protect' their children from immorality by getting involved and getting the book (among other books) banned.

Now, I've never read this book (I haven't gathered up the courage, I'm honestly afraid it'd be triggering for me) but from the summaries I've read, Speak is about a high school girl named Melinda who is raped and becomes depressed (as many rape victims do after their rapes). As the title suggests, this book is about SPEAKING OUT about rape. It's about giving rape survivors a voice. To think that anyone could consider this book sexually exciting is SICK and disturbing.

Something that I love about this book (even though I've never read it) is that it sounds like it really captures how hard it is for rape survivors to speak out. We live in a society that shames rape survivors who speak out. Many rape survivors have no support system whatsoever. Sometimes, a rape victim is lucky enough to have someone in hir* life who is supporting and helpful. However, far too often, this isn't the case. Many people have no idea how to treat rape survivors so they end up treating us like monsters instead of real people who have suffered through one of the worst crimes imaginable.

It's been years since I've been raped and speaking out is one of the hardest things for me to do. I am one of those rape survivors that has no support system due to "friends" who suddenly became jerks as soon as I told them about the rape. Another reason that it's hard as hell for me to speak out is because I'm involved in the activist community, and this of course can get me some enemies. These enemies will take EVERY SHOT IMAGINABLE at me. They've taken shots at me for being raped. They've taken shots at me for speaking up about and against rape. They took shots at me when Gabby died. They take shots at me when I tweet about family or personal problems. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I hardly ever let anything an anti says get to me, but when I'm constantly beaten down for speaking out, what can you expect to happen? Speaking to my friends about the rape is no better, no less hurtful.

I am so tired. I've found that things are not as bad when I just shut up instead of speaking out. The problem with this is that healing doesn't come with silence. I have never in my life heard of a person who has been able to heal from any kind of traumatic experience by being silent. At best, silence will keep a person right where he or she is. She won't get better, and with luck she might not get worse.

..but why the hell should a rape survivor have to choose between getting worse and the possibility of staying right where she or he is? Why isn't getting better an option for so many people?

You can help give rape survivors another option. You can be the deciding factor as to whether or not a rape survivor suffers for the rest of hir life or whether she or he finds healing, hope, and the ability to move forward. Speaking out can, and should, be a healing experience. But it won't be unless you let it.

When speaking with a rape survivor about hir rape:


1) Tell hir that s/he should be "over it". Rape can take many years for a person to recover from. Telling a rape survivor that hir mourning is taking too long isn't going to stop hir from mourning, it's just going to make hir hide hir mourning from you.

2) Tell a rape survivor that s/he is "playing the rape card". This should speak for itself. This is another way or telling a person that he or she is wrong for being in pain, and it does not make the pain go away, it just makes the problem worse.

3) Promote any kind of rape apologism, including, but not limited to:
a. "You were asking for it!"
b. Promoting submission to rapists as a type of "rape prevention" ie "Women should never take walks alone"
c. Blaming the victim in any way, shape, or form by telling hir that she or he could/should have done something to prevent the ordeal, that she shouldn't have been wearing that skirt, that she shouldn't have been making out with that guy if she didn't want to have sex with him, etc.

4) Treat the victim like a freak.

5) Try to convince a rape survivor to do what you want her to do if she gets pregnant.

6) Say "men can't be raped!"

7) Say "women can't rape!"

8) Doubt the victim, tell hir that she or he is lying about being raped.

9) Use the rape against him or her because you consider that person an "enemy".

10) Ask "why didn't you report him to the police?" or say "I wonder how many more people he has raped because you didn't report him to the police."


1) Offer unconditional love and support.

2) Be the shoulder that she or he can cry on.

3) Support hir with whatever choice s/he makes with a possible pregnancy.

4) Assure hir that s/he did nothing to cause the rape, that the rape is 100% the rapist's fault no matter what kind of clothes the victim was wearing, if s/he was drinking, if s/he was alone, etc.

5) Treat hir like you treated hir before the rape. Offer to take hir out to dinner, shopping, to the movies, etc.

6) Assure hir that there is no such thing as taking "too long" to "get over" the rape.

7) And seriously, if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all. If you're going to be a jerk or if you're looking for a debate about rape, it's your turn to be silent because rape survivors are kept silent far too much. Let us SPEAK.

*gender neutral pronoun


  1. This is so amazing. I wish everyone could see those lists!

    I read Speak when I was in high school. It was so compelling and emotional for me that I read it all in one sitting. It really speaks to two of the most important things, in my opinion: Listen to her. Believe her.

  2. Seems that we have a lot in common in regards to feelings, except for me, everything you wrote is exactly how I feel when I have to talk to both pro-choice and pro-life people of my abortion.

    I'm a survivor of sexual abuse. For four years (from 4th grade to 7th grade) and I HATE HATE HATE when people say, "Well, at least he didn't rape you." Yeah, good thing that he instead did the things he did and robbed me of a childhood. So much better.

    You know what else I consider rape?? Before I was married I would be dating guys and sometimes I wasn't in the mood. But they were. So even though I said I wasn't in the mood, they continued. So I just laid there totally silent. AND THEY KEPT ON. Even though I wasn't moving in response. Even though I wasn't more than a dead person. THAT to me shows how SICK some men are. Did I fight them off? No. I did the opposite, I just gave up and let them "do what they want." My survival method from being sexually abused for so long as a child.

    He was arrested when I went into 8th grade. Turns out he did it to other girls...including his own sister.


  3. Nina-

    Thank you :). I think I might read it. I'm just afraid to, to be honest. I'm sure it's a great book that provides a lot of emotional support for rape survivors, but I have a hard time reading anything related to rape. It can get really triggering.


    "You know what else I consider rape?? Before I was married I would be dating guys and sometimes I wasn't in the mood. But they were. So even though I said I wasn't in the mood, they continued. So I just laid there totally silent. AND THEY KEPT ON. Even though I wasn't moving in response."

    Exactly. The opposite of rape isn't passiveness, or even consent. It's enthusiasm!

    Our society has such a narrow, inaccurate definition of rape. I'm so sorry about your history with sexual abuse, Allison. *hugs*

  4. Most of that list makes perfect sense but I would ask somebody if they reported it and I would want them to so they could get justice. Maybe it's because I'm in law school, but I'm unclear how that is un-supportive. I'd like to be enlightened

  5. Not Guilty-

    The first thing that should be understood is that law enforcement has a history of abusing rape survivors. The rape itself is violating enough. Reporting the rape leads to a whole new series of potential violations (potential because not all rape survivors feel violated by it, of course), and no rape survivor should be pressured to go through that if she or he doesn't want to.

    The second thing that should be understood is that the "why didn't you report him?" line is often used long after the fact. I've had people use it against me fairly recently, even though the rape happened years ago. There's no use in shoving the fact that hir rapist may still be raping into the rape survivor's face, especially when there's nothing to be done about it. That is a tactic used to shame rape survivors, to make them feel as if they've committed a crime by not reporting the rape, to make them feel as if they're responsible for any rapes that their rapist might have caused.

    Also, "Did you report it to the police?" and "why DIDN'T you" are two totally different questions. The first question wouldn't bother me, the second one does bother me. I'm speaking for myself and for myself only, though.

    If you happen to be with a rape victim after s/he is raped, then by all means offer to drive hir to the hospital or to the police. But make sure it's an offer, no need to pressure.

    Also, if anyone happens to be with a rape survivor after s/he was raped and s/he WANTS to report the rapist to the police, make sure that the victim knows not to take a shower/wash hir clothes as not to wash away any evidence. After the evidence is washed away and after time passes, reporting it to the police just becomes a "he said she said" type of battle (which is another reason why 'why didn't you report him to the police?' is very unhelpful).

  6. Re: Not Guilty-

    Not Guilty, thanks for taking the time to ask your question. I'm not sure what type of law you plan on practicing, but as a criminal defense attorney I can tell you that ProChoiceGirl's reply is spot on.

    Let me add that in my county, sex crimes have THE lowest rate of state convictions. They are very hard to prosecute because of the "he said/she said" factor that PCG mentions. Even with physical evidence, proving that a crime took place beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult. Also, most law enforcement agencies don't have personnel that are trained to specifically handle sex crimes, making it easy for the person reporting one to end up further traumatized.

    Additionally, even if it seems to make more sense to an outside and rational thinking mind to report the crime, a rape victims' mind often resembles a file cabinet that has literally been tossed into the middle of the room. That is not to say that rape survivors should be treated as irrational human beings--it means that it is completely normal for an outside person not to understand the extent of the mental violation of a sexual assault. It is also normal and completely appropriate that a survivor need, and be given the space, to be in control of the healing process.

    Congratulations and good luck on your journey through law school--it's a fun and challenging one--but unfortunately, there is way too little justice in the "justice system." A victim of a crime should never be told they are responsible for fixing that.




Due to constant spam and derailing coming from a few antis, I am now making this blog a "safe place". This does not mean that I won't allow opposing views. It means that I'm not longer going to allow hateful or unrelated/spammy comments. This will continue on until the anti-choice spammers get bored with harassing me and the people who post here, and is especially relevant when it comes to the topic of rape. I hope this doesn't deter any respectful people from commenting. :)