Even when your assessment of your friend’s experience is accurate, naming the experience as rape may have unintended emotional consequences. Your friend may not be ready to accept all that the word implies. On the other hand, if a friend is not aware that what was done to them was rape, they may not understand the source of the emotional turmoil nor the available resources. Your taking a strong position in either direction can be distressing and not helpful. You might respond by saying that you are concerned because it sounds like rape to you, but that it might be more helpful to speak with a professional. If your friend makes it clear that your comments are not helpful, don’t pursue the matter and contact the Safe Office to confidentially discuss your concerns.
It is hard when someone you care about is raped. When that person is also your significant other, emotions can be overwhelming. You will have strong feelings of your own, and it is important that you seek help from others, including professionals such as the Safe Office or the University Counseling Center. When you are with your partner, try not to make your needs a bigger issue than theirs. Be a good listener. Let your partner set the pace. Ask what your partner would like to share rather than demand to know everything that happened.
As for sex, it may be some time before your partner feels comfortable resuming sexual activity. Or you partner may insist on sex or resume sex prematurely to pretend that all is normal again or as a way to feel in control or out of guilt for feeling like they are not an adequate sexual partner. These pretenses are not the basis for a good sexual or personal relationship. It is important to talk with your partner and share with them that you want to resume sexual intimacy only when they feel ready. Ask that your partner initiates sex only when that time comes and share that there is no rush. And keep your word. This may take a while, and if you find yourself feeling less supportive as time goes by, this may be an indication that you need to talk about how you are feeling.
There are no easy answers to this complex situation as someone’s privacy is being disrespected at a time when, if the rumor is true, they most need to have a sense of control. Do not assume that what you heard was said by someone well-intended as rumors and taking sides can easily get out of hand within a small college community. Wake Forest University has a zero tolerance for retaliation against any person making a complaint of sexual misconduct or any person cooperating in the investigation of any allegation of sexual misconduct and it is important to report any incident of retaliation related to sexual misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator or the Office of the Dean of Student Services.
When interpersonal violence becomes gossip, it is especially difficult to broach the subject with a close friend. You may want to let your friend know what you heard and ask them if they want to talk about it. If they say yes, treat them the same way you would have if they had volunteered the information. If they say no, respect their wishes, reassure them that you will not continue to share the story, and ask how your friend would like you to respond if you hear it again from others. This will give your friend an opportunity to regain some control and will give you a better idea of how to respond. However, before you decide to ask your friend about the rumor, double check your motives. Whether the individual is a survivor of interpersonal violence, or solely of rumors, what they need is friendship, not an additional invasion of their privacy.
Greensite, G. (2008). Rape at college: How to help a friend. [Pamphlet]. Newport: Teal Ribbon Publications, LLC..
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