This is my Top 5 list of stupid things people say (loved ones say) to survivors of sexual injury.
5. “Did you like it?”
Yes, this is hard to believe but I actually heard this question was asked of a sexual injury survivor once again recently and it is what inspired me to write this article.
4. “We don’t talk about those things”
Luckily this comment happens less and less nowadays. This comment was the product of a repressed generation that was in deep denial about what was really going on behind close doors and in denial of its prevalence.
3. “What did you do to cause it?” I’ve helped countless women clear the pain of this one question multiple times, but thank goodness it seems to be heard less frequently with women under 50.
2. “Why didn’t you try to stop it?” and
1. “Why didn’t you tell anyone at the time?” Unfortunately, these last two questions I still hear from clients on a regular basis no matter what their age.
Believe it or not, these kinds of comments and questions are proffered not by strangers, but by loved ones…spouses, parents and friends. In case you don’t get why some of these questions are so stupid (it’s because they are based in ignorance and have the potential to be extremely hurtful and even re-traumatizing). Let me explain:
Stupid Question #5. The human body is receptive to pleasure and stimulation. No one can consciously control sexual stimulation. It’s one of the most guilt-producing aspects of sexual injury. Even if they did enjoy it physically, they did not emotionally and besides which, this is none of your business. Don’t ask.
Stupid Comment #4. Secrecy is a cancer that will ruin your family. Your inability to listen and to shut off conversation with your loved one will prevent them from opening up to you in ways you can’t even being to fathom. By far the most common reason why people respond this way is because of their own past sexual injury. The second most common reason is that the guilt that they somehow were responsible or failed to protect their loved one. Deal with your past and your guilt. Period.
Stupid Question #3. They didn’t do anything to cause it. Nothing. As long as some power differential (the person was older, stronger, held a role of mentor/educator/confidant) was at play, nothing they wore, said, nor the way they acted, was responsible for the abuse or injury. Note that you are essentially blaming them for what transpired and this is a form of secondary betrayal which I discuss in detail in my book. To really educate yourself about consent watch this .
Stupid Questions #2 and #1. To understand why a person wouldn’t stop, scream or fight back, you need to understand the brain. Unless you are fully educated about trauma you likely won’t fully understand this response. In a nutshell, the body freezes, the ability to think clearly is not available and the person’s means of surviving is to numb out. Just imagine just how many thousands of time the victim of sexual injury has asked themselves these questions. They often carry the burden of these questions and because they don’t have a full understanding of the neuroscience involved with trauma they think they could have done things differently. They couldn’t have. If you want to understand this, then take the time to watch this .
So, what can you do? Here are a few things I’d like for you as a friend or relative of someone who has been sexually injured to know. Let me start by saying that unless you have been through the exact same experience, you can never know what they have gone through. Can you really say, “I know what you are going through”? Even if you have gone through a similar experience, your perception of what happened to you is unique to you. Honor your loved one’s feelings by saying that you can’t know how much they have suffered. This is the most empathetic statement you can make.
Understand what it has taken and be awed by the remarkable courage they have mustered to tell another person about their ordeal. Tell them that. Acknowledge their bravery and saying that you feel honored that they trusted you enough to share this with you, no matter how long ago the event(s) occurred. Additionally you can tell them that you are 100% there for them in whatever capacity they need, whether it’s to find help, consult authorities, confront the perpetrator, or to take them/go with them to counseling. You may offer suggestions, but make sure that you tell them that you are there to support them in whatever decision they make. If the person sharing this is a minor, then you do have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to tell the appropriate authorities.
Alina Frank is the author of How to Want to Have Sex Again and specializes in working with individuals who have experienced sexual injury and are looking to heal their past and reclaim their passion for life.