By Aaron Anderson
My Girlfriend Was Raped. What I Wish I Would Have Said to Her.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Improving Communication, Healing, and Intimacy
Imagine you are forced upon your stomach and someone is forcing you to do things you never ever wanted to do.
Your power, your will, your autonomy completely stripped from you. If you were powerless to prevent someone from exerting their will upon you, how would you feel? Knowing that the only power you have in this situation is the control of your thoughts, yet your thoughts are scattered and oscillate from moments of the quiet serenity of the smell of your mom’s homemade biscuits and the person who is violently forcing pain upon in spite of your pleas for mercy.
Unfortunately, for far too many women in America, this is a reality.
Sexual assault is a scourge in our society, and as men we have to take a more proactive stance to help those who suffer in this silent hell find peace and healing. It is not the responsibility of the victim of sexual assault to make their partner feel comfortable about their past assault. It is the responsibility of the man to be mindful and engaged in the life of his loved one to help them feel comfortable with sharing their feelings of this living nightmare. There are right ways and wrong ways to talk to your girlfriend about their past sexual assault.
Here is a common example of an ineffective approach…
What NOT to say to your girlfriend about being a victim of this heinous crime
“I had had enough! I had been dating my girlfriend for three months now, and every time I attempted to do something with her sexually she would pull away and have an excuse as to why we could not be intimate. That night something snapped inside and me, and I screamed at her, “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you let me touch you?!” She immediately began sobbing and told me to leave. I left dumbfounded and angry. The next day we met and she told me that the reason that she has problems with sexual intimacy is that five years ago she was raped by a former boyfriend. That really floored me. I was not expecting that at all. We broke up soon after this, and all I could think about was I wish I would have handled that situation differently.”
That story comes from a client I that I used to work with. He was devastated because a relationship he was really invested in ended because of his insensitivity. This is a prime example of the classic male handicap: looking for the seen and concocting solutions rather than listening and seeking the unseen. Yes, I know that there is no way he could’ve read his girlfriend’s mind to know of her past sexual assault, but in this day and age guys have to be aware of the epidemic of rape and sexual assault that pervades this planet. One in five women in the United States will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives. Any male looking to find a life mate to care for in a committed relationship has to be aware of this fact because one in five is an astronomical number. It means that of every five women that you know, at least one of them have been sexually assaulted. So that means that there are more victims of sexual assault in America than there are Beyoncé fans! Fellas, that should be a wakeup call to all of us, and it speaks to the fact that it is imperative that men are aware of the signs that show that your girlfriend might have been sexually assaulted so that you can prevent the disaster that happened to the man at the beginning of this article. There is no definitive list of signs that someone has been sexually assaulted because everyone processes trauma in different ways; however, there are a few signs that manifest often in victims of sexual assault.
Three Signs That Your Girlfriend Might Have Been Sexually Assaulted
Women who have been sexually assaulted regularly show a strong aversion toward sexual intimacy with partners. If you have been in a relationship with someone and they avoid sexual contact, you might try to address it in a polite way to see what is causing that. It could be anything from being taught that sex is dirty to having been sexually assaulted. Communication leads to understanding, and understanding leads to intimacy. Most people think that intimacy means sexual intercourse. That assumption is far from the truth. The prerequisite to intercourse is communication and a sense of safety.
SOLUTION: Gentlemen, before you try to be intimate with your girlfriend, focus on communicating with her in a way that fosters open discourse and understanding. Ask gentle questions like:
The important thing is to use “I” statements and to not make it seem like it’s her fault, because it absolutely isn’t.
If your girlfriend has a problem letting people get close to her or has a problem trusting people, this could also be a sign of being sexually assaulted in the past. Clearly, this type of trauma has a devastating effect on the psyche and can turn the most trusting individual into someone who cannot believe a word anyone tells them. There is a saying that goes “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” Keep in mind that the victims of sexual assault were innocent and often trusted someone they felt close to. That creates a deep emotional chasm that is hard to cross.
SOLUTION: If your significant other shows signs of mistrust such as always questioning you or not believing the things you tell them, you should talk to her about it. Try asking questions like:
Women who have experienced this type of trauma usually have a problem trusting men from that point on. If your girl is always complaining about how bad men are, you should take note. You could one day in a normal everyday conversation talk about how you understand why women don’t trust guys because of infidelity, sexual assault, etc. Let it be an organic conversation though; you don’t want to force this.
SOLUTION: For example, maybe you two are watching a movie or TV show with a rape scene or a guy being violent toward a woman, and you say something like:
Remember, a victim of sexual assault is very apprehensive about talking about their past trauma so make sure you are cultivating a relationship built on respect, trust, and love so that your partner will feel secure to talk to you openly about their assault and their life in general.
Sexual assault affects the human brain in deep and profound ways. As a boyfriend, you should strive to build an environment where your girlfriend feels protected so that she can openly share with you and so that you can say things that will spurn her on toward healing so that your relationship can continue to flourish rather than fizzle out. What you say to your girlfriend who has been sexually assaulted can make or break your relationship.
What is the difference between a good boyfriend and a true gentleman (the type of man that every woman pines for)? A good boyfriend shows care and concern for his mate; a true gentleman is an advocate for his lover. He does not seek to avenge the wrong done to his lover. He does not dismiss her thoughts or pain. Rather, he partners with her to be a champion for her to help her heal from the despicable crime of sexual assault.
Gentlemen, I challenge you to be emotional gladiators for your girlfriends and show them that you are there to help them heal so that we can normalize conversations about sexual assault and the victims have an output to step out of the dark into the light.
About the author: Aaron resides in Virginia Beach, VA with his wife and two sons. He is an Army Veteran who specialized in Human Resources and continued his education to obtain a master’s degree in Professional Counseling. Currently, he is working to help break the cycle of violence by counseling juvenile sex offenders and at-risk youth.