Since the topic has come up a few times recently, I thought I’d take a moment to describe how someone who has been raped behaves.
When a woman is about to be raped, she fights back with everything she’s got. She knows that her very life is endangered, and she will do absolutely anything to save herself. She will kick, yell, scream, cry, beg and bargain to avoid it. If she goes down, she goes down swinging. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman is about to be raped, she quickly calculates what she needs to do to survive, and often that means complying. Just like people are advised to go along with what a mugger wants, often it’s best to keep a rapist calm. Survival means more than anything. If she survives, she’s done the right thing. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman is raped, she goes to the police as soon as she can. She knows that collecting evidence is best done as soon as possible, and she will do anything to get her rapist convicted. After all, if she tried to fight him off, she did no wrong. She has a right to justice. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman is raped, she tells no one, or only a few people, but certainly not the police. She knows that going to the police will mean retelling what happened to strangers, many of whom may judge her and blame her. She knows that going to trial will mean putting her own self on trial, to be accused as a slut or accused of lying. Hardly anyone who seeks justice gets it. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman is raped, she acts hysterically. She cries and sobs and can’t cope with life. She goes for days without eating normally or sleeping. She is afraid to be alone and afraid of having people too near to her. Her world has been turned upside down, and she acts like it. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman has been raped, she acts like nothing out of the ordinary happened at all. She goes to work or to school the next day like any other. She tells no one. She keeps it to herself. She even forgets about it. Because there are bills to pay and kids to feed and someone still needs to keep a roof over everyone’s head, and after all, all she wants to do is feel normal again. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman has been raped, she remembers every excruciating detail. She relives them every night in her nightmares and sees them during the day during her flashbacks. Everyday things become triggers that set her on a roller coaster of remembrance. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman has been raped, she forgets it. Sometimes it’s because she was literally out of her head when it happened – dissociated. Sometimes it’s because she willfully shoved the memories aside so that she could cope. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman has been raped, she’s damaged goods forever. Nothing anyone can do or say will restore her to the person she was before the attack. It changes how she sees the world, the people around her and herself. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
When a woman has been raped, she can survive. And more than survive, she can thrive. She can overcome what was done to her, repair herself and become stronger than she ever was before. She can let go of shame and guilt and self-blame. She can learn to trust again. She can learn to live. That is how a woman who is raped behaves.
I hope this has been educational. In truth, a woman who has been raped can act in any manner of way. I have been with women who have just been raped and seen them cry, scream, laugh, smile or show absolutely no emotion at all. Some choose to report it and some do not. Some fought back during the attack and some did not or could not. Some struggle with depression, anxiety disorders and dissociative disorders for years after an assault. Some recover more quickly.
There truly is no one right way to react to a rape. Care providers often tell a woman that whatever she did to survive a rape was the right thing to do, and I believe that. Similarly, whatever a woman needs to do to cope in the aftermath is normal, too. Yes, there are adaptive strategies, like joining a support group, and maladaptive strategies, like turning to drugs and alcohol. It isn’t easy. Few people can chart a straight-line path through recovery.
When you meet a woman who has been raped, don’t judge her if she doesn’t react in the way you had expected. She has survived an ordeal most people will thankfully never know. It took a lot for her to get as far as she has. If she hasn’t done it the way you expected her to, it doesn’t matter. She’s a survivor all the same.