Content warning: discussion around sexual assault, support for victims.
During the month of April (and year-round), advocates against sexual assault work hard to highlight different aspects of sexual violence. This includes signs of ongoing abuse, how to support victims, reporting practices, and so much more. All of this is done in an effort to support victims of assault. Even more, they work to help prevent future instances of sexual assault from occurring.
According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, there are an average of 463,634 victims of sexual violence (ages 12+) in the United States every single year. Statistically speaking, that means that someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. The data is staggering and quite disturbing. 1
Many people know more than one individual who has been sexually assaulted. With data like this, it is imperative we learn how to best support survivors of sexual assault in our lives. One of the most complicated areas to navigate in life after being sexually violated is in romantic relationships. In this article, we will be zooming in on different ways to be aware and supportive of your partner’s needs as they go through life after an assault. While this list is far from exhaustive, we do hope to offer you some tangible ways to show care and affection to your partner in an informed way.
Don’t Ask for a Replay
First and foremost, it is important for everyone to remember that sexual violence is incredibly traumatizing. Recounting various details of that can re-traumatize victims countless times. One of the most important things you can do to support your partner in life after abuse is by not prompting or forcing them to divulge any information about what has happened. If your partner feels safe enough to share with you, they will do so on a timeline that feels appropriate for them. Don’t push it. You can ensure that your partner knows you care about their experience without making them feel any pressure to share or revisit some of the most violating moments of their life.
Boundaries + Consent
Boundary building and consent are also important elements that should be employed in all relationships. However, they carry perhaps a deeper weight when it comes to intimate relationships for someone who has experienced sexual assault. Pressure to have sex is never okay and should never be applied to anyone. Working with your partner to determine what is okay with them, and what will make them feel safe and loved is of the utmost importance! It’s okay – and important – to talk together about what that might look like in your relationship. 2
Sexual contact isn’t the only type of physical contact that might be triggering for survivors of sexual assault. Physical contact of varying kinds could be triggering and may not always feel good. Things like kissing, cuddling, or even hand-holding might seem simple and lovely to folks who haven’t experienced sexual violence. For a sexual assault survivor, they could be ripe with all sorts of grief and trauma landmines. This is where your conversations about consent and boundaries will be extremely useful. Having an open dialogue with your partner about what they feel safe with or good about is imperative.
Also, it’s important to recognize that what feels comfortable today may not feel comfortable tomorrow or in a few weeks. Trauma triggers can show up in all sorts of places, many unexpected. So it’s important to respond to your partner with patience, kindness, and empathy. Navigating life after sexual assault isn’t easy for anyone. If you approach these situations in love and understanding from the beginning, it can make such a difference in your relationships.
Another area to work on is media consumption. Today, it’s easy to access so much media with the touch of a hand. Many people can easily engage with TV, podcasts, music, and so much more just by using their cellphone. Each of us bears a responsibility to make sure that the spaces we contribute to or participate in are safe. Certain social apps, like Twitter, have the option to block certain words/phrases so that specific content never makes it onto one’s news feed. This tool is useful for ensuring that contact with triggering material never makes it to your partner’s feed.
If your partner mentions anxiety or stress over triggering media content, you can always suggest finding ways to help filter out unwanted or troubling content from their experience! In the same vein, being conscious of the content included in movies or shows you watch together is another way you can love your partner throughout their life after sexual assault. Have plans to go to the movies this weekend? Research the titles before choosing, and have conversations together about what choices might be good for you and your partner, based on what you’ve found.
Life is complicated by different nuances for each of us. How much better can our experiences in life be if we take the time to understand what the people we love are carrying through their lives each day? Your efforts here may offer considerable peace of mind to your partner as they walk through each day of their altered reality. Sometimes what we need to survive another day is someone who will walk alongside our unknown path in empathy, willingness, and compassion.
If you have been sexually assaulted and are in need of resources, please don’t hesitate to visit rainn.org for a full list of services, or to call RAINN at 800.656.HOPE (4673). They have trained agents available for phone calls or live chat on their website 24 hours a day.
1Data collected from RAINN.org