Monday, June 6, 2011

Confidence in Confidants

Given all the shame, doubt and blame that is meted out to victims of rape, is it any wonder so few of them want to talk about what happened to them? No one knows for sure how many rapes are never reported to the authorities, but expert opinion, such as that collated by Baroness Stern in her review, believes the figure to be around 90%.

The fear of being called a liar and of being re-victimised by the legal system is what puts off rape victims from going to the police about their ordeal. And the more victims don't feel they can take their experience to the authorities, the more rapists escape justice and the more the true extent of the crime is kept hidden.

So think about it: if a woman told you she had been raped, how would you respond? Perhaps a woman has told you she was raped, how did you respond?

When I was in my late teens a friend of mine told me a male "friend of the family" had "made her" have sex with him while supposedly acting as her chaperone. As I recall, my instinct was to believe her story, to say it was clear to me the man had raped her and that he was utter scum.

It wasn't a situation I had prepared for - how could you? - but reading the accounts of other victims of rape or sexual assault, I'm relieved to learn that my heartfelt response was probably the most appropriate one as well.

Believing the account of a victim is crucial. Remember, the most recent study found that of all the rapes reported to the police, less than 6% were false allegations. Statistically, a woman who says she was raped is most unlikely to be lying. Likewise, statistics also tell us that a man who denies a rape accusation probably is lying.

Don't tell a victim that she could have done something to prevent the attack. Again, statistically the only thing she could have possibly done to prevent the attack was to avoid contact with any and all men. Especially friends, colleagues and family. Is that feasible?

Try and be as sensitive as possible to what she needs from you. If you sense she needs space, don't overwhelm her with physical comfort; if you sense she needs to go over and over what happened and how she feels about it, just listen.

Whether she decides to go to the authorities about the attack or not, support her decision. In a more ideal world, all rape victims would alert the police to their ordeals - but in reality, most don't want to for the reasons mentioned above. Respect that.

If a friend does confide in you that she has been raped it says something very important about how she regards you: she trusts you. You won't let her down, will you?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Constructive comments and points for debate about the issues raised in the blog are very welcome.

Comments that are judged to be abusive will not be published.

Thanks for your understanding.