Thursday, August 27, 2015

Damaged Goods: What To Do When You Find Out a Women In Your Life Has a History of Sexual Abuse

Before we go any further, let's take a moment to address that headline... "Damaged Goods". Is that really how we think of women in this country who have been victims of some form of sexual assault? Unfortunately, a lot of the times the answer is yes, and I for one think that needs to change. The reality is more staggering than you can imagine. Each year there are close to 300,000 sexual assaults in the U.S. with most of these going unreported. What that means is that number could be even higher, and in my experience it definitely is.

The truth is, that the majority of women have experienced sexual assault in one form or another at some point in there lives. This doesn't mean every women walking the streets has been a victim of rape (though the numbers on that are shocking as well), but most have been victims in some sense. Whether it's rape, unwanted sexual advances, sexual harrassment or anything else of the like, the point is most women have an experience involving their sexuality they'd rather not share. For me this topic hits home. Many of my best friends on this planet happen to be women, and for one reason or another they all seem to confide in me at some point. I'd like to say the idea of hearing these stories gets easier with time, but the truth is I always find myself infuriated at whoever the perpetrator may have been. I find myself asking questions like,

"Who would do this?"

"Why wouldn't you come forward?"

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

But as I've met more and more people with age, and encountered more and more stories like these I've learned quite a few things. The most important being how similar many of these stories are, and what it says about the person who's finally able to share it with you. 

This is an article for men who may be in the dark on this topic. It seems many of my own guy friends are oblivious to this disturbing trend. If this sounds like you, or you've recently found yourself in a situation wondering, "How do I deal with this information," then take a few minutes and learn from my own experience. Whether it's your best friend, your girl friend, fiance or wife, doesn't matter, what matters is how you deal with receiving this new information, and what you can take away from it. 


When a women you care about and cares about you decides to open up to you about this topic, it's usually not something done casually and in passing. If you find yourself in this situation and you don't know what to do as you process this new information the best advice I can give you is simply don't DO anything. Realize that for her, this isn't easy, but she cares enough about you, that she wants you to know. This can be a huge step in a relationship when someone opens up to you with this type of story. The best thing you can do is simply hear her out, don't interject, don't get upset, simply let her tell you in her own time this story and how it's played a role in her development.


The first time a women opened up to me about a sexual assault in her past I was in college. It was my best friend at the time, I was 18, and I simply didn't know how to handle it. As I grew up and I continued to be confronted with this trend, I found that many (in my experience, the majority) of women had situations when they were younger. It disgusts me to think about, but the statistics show that the majority of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and many times someone older. This means by the time this person is opening up to you this is something that happened a long time ago. That doesn't by any means make it easier, it simply means they've spent the years in between dealing with it, what they need from you is for you to understand how it has shaped them. Especially if it was in the past one of the worst things you can do is talk about reporting it, or doing something about it, sexual assault is one of the trickiest crimes to prosecute, especially if it's been years. They don't want a solution from you, they just want you to know, to understand this difficult part of their life, and that they trust you with this information. 


I can't speak for every women who's ever been assaulted, but I do know they come in all shapes and sizes and backgrounds, but the one's I've known have all shared one similar quality, strength. This is not to say that women can't be strong and independent without trauma, but those who have faced these travesties and dealt with them, and become better women because of them are a sight to behold. Unfortunately, many women never get over the issues associated with such an event, and even the one's who get "over" it, are never really over it. What they share however is a belief that they are stronger than their circumstance, they will not let one situation change the person they want to be. For some women it takes years, for others not as long, but just know if she's telling you these things it means to some extent she's dealing with it, she's not letting it define her, and she wants your support. 


"I don't want you to think any differently of me." This is something I've heard uttered far too many times for my liking in past relationships, and again when I was younger, I didn't quite know how to process it. My first thought used to be, "But you were raped, how could this NOT change things," but the truth is it's not about you, it's about her. If someone feels close enough to share this information with you and your view on them changes, then you probably didn't deserve to be with her in the first place. The truth is however, you view SHOULD change, but for the better. She doesn't want to be viewed as a victim, she doesn't need your pity, and if those are your first thoughts, then you have some growing up to do before you're ready for the real world. However, if you see her through a new filter, admire her courage, stand by her side in silent support, then you just affirm the reason she trusted you in the first place. 

Whether you know it or not, in relationships past or future, you've probably been or will be with someone who has been a victim of sexual assault. Remember that her situation doesn't change the person she has become. Remember that she doesn't want your pity. Remember that she's telling you this because she trusts you, because she wants you to know. Finally, if you've been affected by this situation make a change of your own. Remember how it felt when someone you cared for opened up to you about this for the first time, and realize if we want to stop this trend, it starts with all of us. We can't change the past, but if we really care for the beatiful women in our lives, we can hold each other accountable for a better future. 

And remember ladies, you're beautiful, because you're you, and no one can take that away from you.  

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