"I have to help my friend and I don’t know how."

[Trigger warning.]

Renee of Womanist Musings (who requested I blog about this) got a call from a close friend last night who had been raped in her own home. Renee, a sexual assault survivor herself, is struggling with how to help and seeking advice.

One thing that having been raped oneself doesn't do is magically imbue a person with the skills to be a rape counselor. Sometimes, being a survivor can help. Sometimes, it can make it even harder, as such counsel can be triggering.

I encourage you, if you have any words of advice, strength, or commiseration, to visit Renee and drop her a note.

What I advise, for the edification of anyone who will ever find themselves in a similar situation to Renee, tasked with counseling a friend who has been raped, is to listen. Listen hard. Let that person speak, long and at length, about everything they are feeling. Affirm what they are feeling. Make sure that reassuring them they aren't to blame and shouldn't feel shame about what happened doesn't come at the cost of silencing them.

"It is totally understandable that you feel that way" are some of the most important words any survivor of rape can hear, and they are almost never said.

It can be uncomfortable to listen to a rape survivor express feelings that we might viscerally respond to by thinking, "Zie shouldn't be feeling that!" There is a lifetime of living in a rape culture with which to contend, and it's very easy to inadvertently imply that the natural responses of someone conditioned to self-blame and shame are wrong.

It's not wrong to feel those things; there is no right or wrong about what to feel about being raped. That's why an ally must be gentle. "It is totally understandable that you feel that way. I understand why you are blaming yourself and feeling ashamed. You don't have to. It wasn't your fault, and you are are safe with me." Provide the room for a survivor to get past those feelings at hir own pace.

One of the worst things even the best-intentioned among us do is send those feelings underground, where they fester and linger. We so want to heal the hurt, but we can't.

The best way to help is to listen.

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