For Loved Ones of Survivors

You have recently found out that you know a survivor. 

You need some advice on how to react. How to support. How to love. What to say. What not to say. 

It’s normal that you are speechless with thousands of questions running through your mind. 

Here’s the thing. There’s no perfect way to react. 

But, here’s a few simple guidelines to help you do your best:

DO listen, much, MUCH more than you talk. 

DON’T analyze their experience or comment on it. Take their experience as cold hard truth. It’s not your job to be a lawyer or a cop or a judge. Your job is to support. 

DO let THEM TELL YOU what they need. They know better than you. If they don’t know – 

DO help them financially to get counselling if they are not already getting help from Victim Services, if you are able. 

DON’T tell them what they need. What to do with their story. Don’t pressure them to do anything they don’t think will be helpful. Don’t tell them to go to the police. Don’t tell them not to. If you are concerned they are making the wrong decision, ask them to seek out more information from a resource like the No Society. 

DO help them work things out if they are unable to go to work or take care of their kid due to PTSD.

DON’T shame them for this, or tell them to get over it. If you want them to be healthy in the long run, they might need to take a year off work and you might need to help them out. Consider this similar to if they got in a terrible car accident and were incapable of walking for a year. If you are able, and if they need the time to heal, help them.

DON’T make them talk about it. If they want to talk about it, they can come to you.

DO try to match their emotion towards events related to their incident. If the cops make a huge breakthrough and find evidence for the survivor’s case, and it causes them FEAR and ANXIETY – don’t try to cheer them up/ act excited or dismiss their distress. Try to sit with them through these things. Listen. Try to understand where they are coming from. It’s ok that this stresses them.

And lastly, 

DON’T make any of the comments or ask any of the questions listed below. DO NOT – by ANY means – ask ANYTHING that could sound guilt-trippy or blame-y. Which is actually why I suggest that you don’t ask about anything surrounding your survivor’s event. Let them tell you. I know you are dying to ask. But don’t. We have developed a space where we are posting the answers to all of these awful questions that you need answers to. Don’t feel bad for having them – they run through almost everyone’s mind. But have the decency not to ask, please. Instead, read and learn. If you have a questions that is not yet listed below, you can text us or email us or fill out a contact form and we will answer you personally so that you do not have to accidentally further traumatize the survivor in your life.

QUESTIONS NOT TO ASK – AND THEIR ANSWERS

“What were you wearing?”

This is an irrelevant question. A woman wearing lingerie in public does not deserve to get raped, just like a woman in a turtleneck and baggy jeans doesn’t deserve to get raped. It statistically also doesn’t raise the odds of them getting raped. So the question does nothing for anyone, other than pinning a feeling of guilt on the survivor.

“Were you drinking/taking drugs?”

Although this question may be useful for doctors, lawyers and police, it still should not matter to you – as someone whose job is to support the survivor in their life. No matter what your intent behind the question, it will still be heard by the survivor as guilt-tripping / victim blaming. Asking this question reads as “You shouldn’t have been intoxicated. If you were sober you wouldn’t have been raped”. Which also, is factually incorrect.

“Why were you there/ hanging out with that person / those people / etc. / ?”

Again, this implies that they should have known better. Which is another nasty form of victim blaming, even if unintentionally. Your intent doesn’t matter with these questions. It’s not about you. No matter where the survivor was, they didn’t deserve getting raped. 

In case this isn’t clear, It is not your job or business to figure out HOW or WHY the survivor got attacked. That’s because nothing they did caused the attack. It wasn’t their job to know better. It was the RAPIST’S job to not rape someone. All of the shame and blame and questioning should be pinned to the rapist and the rapist alone. Perhaps bystanders if there were any. But never – not EVER – the victim. Don’t make them answer questions that take blame off the rapist and onto them.

“Where were your friends?”

A fair question. And – this does not pin shame or blame on the victim. Unfortunately, instead, this could very well lead to re-traumatization as in many cases, the friends might have left the survivor unattended or alone. The friends might have betrayed the survivor. This question could draw the survivor back to that night and the feeling of being abandoned or betrayed. OR – the survivor might not have had friends where they were, and in place, you might actually unintentionally victim-blame (implying they should have had friends with them). Which – also isn’t even true because even girls who bring good friends with them can get raped. 

“I tried to protect you and I failed”

This is bad in two ways. 

Firstly, it draws attention off of the survivor and onto yourself. Don’t start with the “poor me’s” in front of the survivor. It’s ok to process your own guilt – but the survivor is not your therapist. Keep that stuff to your own counselling appointments. 

Secondly, it will most likely make the survivor feel worse about themself for “making” you miserable or disappointing you. They sure as hell don’t need that added to their plate.

“You should have ________ / She should have ______ / If that was me I would have _______ .”

The fact is – there might have been NOTHING that the survivor could have done to not get raped. Nothing they did “got” them raped. Nothing. Say it again with me : Nothing they did caused their attack. The entire thing is orchestrated by someone else : the rapist.

I like to compare rape to a shark attack to explain some things.. This being one of them:

You couldn’t, technically, ever guarantee that you won’t be attacked by a shark. You could do your best to avoid it by NEVER going swimming at the beach, NEVER going to the ocean at all. NEVER going to an aquarium. NEVER going on a boat. NEVER flying on a plane over the ocean.

But here’s the thing. Someone could ALWAYS drug and kidnap you and feed you to a shark. You can’t do anything to guarantee that won’t ever happen.

It’s the same with rape. You can’t do anything to guarantee not getting raped. That being said, there are many, many more obstacles we would have to remove to attempt not getting raped. An unliveable amount of things. An impossible amount of things. That’s why 1 in 3 women in Canada are attacked. We’d have to:

 NEVER go to grade school, NEVER go to university, NEVER go to a bar or club or party, NEVER walking down a street, NEVER enter an elevator, NEVER enter a stairwell. NEVER go to a parking lot, NEVER going to work, NEVER date, NEVER get married. NEVER go on a subway or train or bus, NEVER go travelling. NEVER going to family gatherings. NEVER go friends houses. NEVER go out past sundown. NEVER go out when the sun is out. NEVER….

Do you see my point? It’s a bit more complicated than a shark attack, but it helps me make my point. If you want us to avoid getting raped, you have to ask us to limit ourselves a whole lot more than just from going to bars or clubs. MOST attacks don’t happen there. It’s your own ignorance and lack of education that causes you to assume that.