If a child should ever come to a parent in the aftermath of being raped, the reaction would most likely be major rage, toward the rapist. They would definitely want to hurt the perpetrator somehow if they could get a hold of him. While this is normal and understandable, and despite the feeling and urge to go into battle, this is a time when being calm is needed and violent revenge would be the wrong way to help. Overreacting could make them wish they never said anything and maybe even make them wish they hadn’t stressed you out with one more thing for you to have to deal with. They may even try to take the role of being your comforter, counselling and soothing you when in fact they are the ones in need. Also, you may get arrested should you act on your anger. Your anger should never be directed toward them either. Words hurled in moments of frustration can be severe in this situation. Anger against them deprives them of the opportunity to talk openly with someone they can trust.
Avoid questions, especially those that begin with, “Why…? Why didn’t you…? Why weren’t you…? Why were you…? Couldn’t you have…? Should you have…? Do you think that was a good idea…?” and other questions that begin with hints of blame, or make them defend themselves. Even if you don’t blame the victim, they will anticipate hints that you might, so be very careful with the questions you ask at this time.
No matter how curious you are, avoid asking about details of the attack because they may not be ready to talk about it in detail. However, if they want to discuss it, listen but avoid pressing for more information. Never ask whether they enjoyed any part of the attack (they didn’t!), because it is important that you don’t equate rape with sexuality, promiscuity, or infidelity. One mistake that people make when they talk about rape is that they tend to focus on the sexual aspects of the experience, rather than understanding the act as a violent crime of power and control. By misinterpreting rape in this way, survivors can be made to feel even more alone and misunderstood.
Males aren’t the only ones who misunderstand rape; females do too–including survivors. It is crucial to convince the victim that you do not share those views that blame the victim for what another person has done. When you insist, “It wasn’t your fault,” I can almost guarantee that they will disagree with you, debate you, and list the reasons why it was their fault (and if they don’t argue with you in words, they’re probably doing it silently in their minds). But remain steadfast. Don’t debate them point by point, just keep assuring the victim, “I hear you, but none of this was your fault. I don’t blame you–not at all.” “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I care about you deeply. I want to be someone you can trust to be helpful to you, whatever you need.”
The advantage of this won’t be apparent right away. It’s not like they’ll instantly brighten up and realize they’re innocent, that’s not the point. The point is that when they are finally ready to talk–a month from now, a year from now–they already know that they have at least one person in their lives who won’t blame them. Don’t feel shut out or hurt if they aren’t immediately open up to you about the rape. It’s not a sign that they don’t trust you or has lost their love for you; it is a sign that they might not trust themselves just yet. They will need a long time to grow strong again before they can discuss it with anyone, even you. Then again, some survivors are immediately open. But don’t disrespect the victims’ privacy by prying, inquiring, or pressing them to be open, even if you believe “it’s so we can deal with it and move on.” Be patient, open, and willing to show that you are loving. By allowing them to express their feelings at the time of their choosing, you can assist in their recovery from painful emotions and fears, and it shows them that you respect them enough to let them set the pace for recovery.
However, when they are ready to talk, they won’t be able to hold back—and that’s when you need to be there, but you have to be supportive and show that they can trust you in order for the victim to choose you and not the wrong person. Do not express anger over their reluctance, like sighing “Fine!” and walking out or using guilt like “How can we deal with this if you won’t be open to me?” Rather, say things like “That’s okay. This is tough, and whenever you want to, I’m ready to listen” (“listen,” not “talk”).
Tell them you love them, then just go ahead and love them.