(Please read my disclaimer about the use of gender pronouns) Rape culture dictates how we currently respond to a victim of sexual violence. Quite frankly, people just don’t know what to say. It’s every woman’s worst nightmare. It the thing no one wants to talk about or even acknowledge because it is so very horrific. When we don’t know what to say, we fall back on what our culture has taught us. This perpetuates rape culture, victim blaming, and further traumatizes the victim. Remember this: You do not have to understand what happened. You do not need a blow by blow so *you* can determine whether or not it fits your definition of “rape.” You only need to know this person is vulnerable, scared, and traumatized. Believe her*. Please explore the links beneath the Survivors heading in the right toolbar for further explanation and information. Below are the basics of what to say and what absolutely not to say. This is what you say to a victim of sexual violence:

  • I’m so sorry that happened to you.
  • I believe you.
  • I’m here to listen to as much or as little as you’d like to share.
  • What do you want to do next?
  • Do you want to go to the police? Call RAINN? Would you like me to go with you?
  • Ultimately, but not right away, ask: “What would you like to see happen with him regarding the community? What, if anything, could he do to help you heal/make amends?”

What absolutely NOT under any circumstances to say to (or about) a victim of sexual violence:

  • Why were you there?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Did you fight back?
  • Why didn’t you scream?
  • What happened?
  • Did you say no?
  • Did you say no forcefully enough?
  • That’s a very serious accusation. Are you sure?
  • Men get carried away.
  • Men always want sex.
  • She likes to “play the victim.”
  • How can a man be raped?
  • Why doesn’t she just get over it?
  • Let it go.
  • Be more positive.
  • What did you expect?
  • You can’t rape a wet noodle.
  • You can’t rape the willing.
  • It’s just the way you’re thinking about it that’s so upsetting. Change your thinking.
  • Him? Certainly not. He’s such a nice guy.
  • Bad breakup?
  • It’s probably just a case of love gone kaplooey.
  • Live well, it’s the best revenge.
  • Why do you bring it up, it’s over, you can’t let it rule your life.
  • Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
  • He has a problem that will ruin his life, he’ll be sad and alone when he dies. (i.e. more concern for the rapist than the survivor)…and other such platitudes

Further reading:

* or him, or zir. Regardless of gender, believe the traumatized person.
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