Rape is a traumatic experience for victims and it takes time to recover. Recovery from rape is affected by the support or the lack of support from family and friends. Immediately after the assault, you can help by:
- believing him and listening to him.
- knowing what to expect and helping him to understand what is happening.
- accepting his feelings and recognizing his strengths.
- communicating compassion and acceptance.
- encouraging him to make decisions that help him to regain control.
- treating his fears and concerns as understandable responses.
- working to diminish his feelings of being isolated and alone.
- holding realistic expectations, especially when he becomes frustrated or impatient.
- helping him identify resources and support persons.
- being yourself and standing by him.
The things most needed by the victim at this time are gentleness and acceptance. To positively affect his recovery, there are many things that you should and should not do:
- Refrain from asking questions about the physical details of the rape. Allow him to discuss such issues only when (or if) he is ready.
- Reassure him that he is not responsible for being raped. Let him know that you do not equate the attack with bad judgment or weakness.
- Never imply that he may have enjoyed the experience.
- Encourage him to discuss any beliefs and self doubts he has about being raped when he is ready. Help him put the blame where it belongs…on the perpetrator.
- Allow him to regain control by making his own decisions. Even asking simple questions that provide him with a choice, such as, “Would you prefer it if I drive?” or “Do you want something to eat?” will help him regain a sense of control.
- Assure him that he is not alone and that your relationship with him will remain intact.
- Respect his wishes for confidentiality. He alone should decide with whom and under what circumstances to discuss the rape.
- Do not tell him that you will “get” the rapist–this will only cause him to fear for your safety.
- Do not encourage plans for retaliation against the rapist. This could place him at additional risk of injury or serious legal problems.
- Do not let your anger about what happened shift attention away from his needs to yours.
- Do not cause him to feel that he is imposing an emotional burden on you.
- Do not direct your anger toward him, even if he seems unresponsive to you.
- Do not ask questions that even hint that he is to blame. Avoid questions that begin with the word “Why.” Examples of questions to avoid include “Why did you go there?” “Why didn’t you yell?” “Why did you talk to him in the first place?”
- Do not make decisions for him or demand that he follow a particular course of action.
- Do not tell the victim that everything is all right when it is not all right. Avoid minimizing the gravity of what has happened because it suggests that you cannot deal with it.
- Do not touch or hold him without asking his permission, or unless he shows signs that such comfort is welcome.
- Do not try to lift his spirits by making jokes about what has happened.
- Do not tell him you know how he feels. Only he truly knows how he feels.
(Adapted from If He Is Raped: A Guidebook for Parents, Partners, Spouses, and Friends, McEvoy, Rollo, and Brookings, 1998.)