At this point a million thoughts are racing through my mind.
What just happened?
What did I do?
Did I hurt her in some way perhaps?
And the tears, what the f*ck?
This is not good. This is bad, real bad.
My own confusion and fear threatens to overwhelm me. This was definitely not how I had imagined things turning out. Remembering the way her body suddenly tensed sends shivers down my spine. There was something ominous about But despite the chaos in my head I somehow manage to keep a calm demeanor and I ask again.
‘Are you OK?’
She just averts her tear filled eyes from my inquisitive gaze. The tension in the air threatens to suffocate both of us but before it does she quickly wraps a towel around her torso and heads for the sanctuary of the bathroom. First she pushes me off her mid coitus and now runs off to bathroom. I get the message loud and clear. She doesn’t want to be anywhere in my vicinity, but why? Her rejection stings but that feeling is immediately overtaken by guilt for feeling that way in this situation. This is not about you. Or is it? There are only two people in this room and she is clearly traumatized by something. I have no idea what it is though.
All of sudden I become hyper conscious of my own nakedness. My eyes scan the room for my jocks. And as I put them back on fear and confusion writes itself all over my face. She isn’t gone for long and when she returns from the bathroom she sits upright on the bed with her knees pulled back towards her chest and her arms wrapped around her knees. I am still desperately trying to make sense of what is happening. I slowly take a sit on the edge of the bed, making a deliberate effort to keep some space between us. Even though I am not entirely sure what is going on yet, my instincts tell me that I need to make her feel safe and considering she pushed me off her mid coitus, I’ll be wise to keep my distance for now.
I still have no idea what is going on. One moment we were both lost in throes of passion and in the next she tensed up and just pushed me off from on top of her without saying a single word and then burst into tears. I had no idea why. I don’t know what to do now. I try to search for the answers behind her tears but all I see are the letters that anxiousness, shame and hurt have scribbled all over face. She seems just as confused and scared as I am. I want to tell her that everything will be OK, but I am not sure I even believe that. I want to console her, but I have no idea what I am consoling her on. Given the sudden turn of events it’s highly likely that I am the problem. The monster she needs to get away from. But that doesn’t make sense. Nothing about this whole scenario makes any sense at all.
‘Talk to me, please, I don’t understand what just happened and you are freaking me out right now’
At that she starts crying again. This is bad, real bad.
After what felt like forever she finally said something. In between her sobs all I managed to pick up ‘… raped’. The rest was pretty much incoherent. My heart stops. That word ‘raped’ sends chills down my spine and my head collapses into my hands. Is she saying that I ….Before I can finish that though she continues ‘I was 15 when my uncle raped me and just before when you were on top of me I had flashbacks of that horrific experience. I haven’t had an episode like this in a long time so it really caught me off guard and it’s just brought up a lot of emotions’ I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. I also felt a temporary relief that it was not me (directly) that had hurt her.
‘Did I … rape you?’, I asked hesitantly still trying to come to terms with what was going on. (And maybe selfishly seeking some reassurance that I wasn’t at fault) ‘No, you stopped when I needed you to … Thank you. It just that sometimes certain things trigger flashbacks and I become overwhelmed’ As she said this shame and guilt weighed down on her voice and it trembled.
Regardless my mind still couldn’t wrap itself around how anyone could commit such a barbaric act on what I imagine was at the time a beautiful young Nubian Princess. And a close trusted family member at that! This upsets me and I find myself consumed by anger for her rapist. For the rest of the night we just sat across the bed from each other as she narrated her ordeal and how it still affected her. This she explained was what she always felt the need to be in control. She explained to me that when her uncle had violated her it wasn’t the sexual act itself that left the deepest scars. It was the power and control he had over her during the rape still that affected her the most. Since then she had issue with letting anyone else be in control especially during sex. And when it comes to others aspects of her life being in independent for her gives her some semblance of power and control over her life.
And as she continued sharing her ordeal my confusion and anger morphed into empathy for and her story. She went on to tell how to this day she resents her family for ‘allowing’ her uncle to violet her in such a heinous manner. How when her friends talked about how they lost their virginity she had to make up a story about how she lost hers because she was too embarrassed to tell them she was raped. She said because of this she found it difficult to bond emotionally with anyone. Even though she still enjoyed sex it was only when she was in total control. She didn’t always want to be in control but every time she did let go the memories (almost always) came flooding back.
Listening to her narrate her story I sense that this whole process is more about her dealing with her demons in this moment and not necessarily about reassuring me or playing the victim in any way. The more of her story she shares with the more I realize that even though her uncle had stolen the innocence of a beautiful young Nubian princess she had still grown into the beautiful Queen of Sheba. Even though in some moments like this she might feel lost and vulnerable, she was still and would always be a Queen. And it is that vivacious, confident beautiful woman that I will always remember. The beautiful young Nubian Princess who grew up to become the Queen of Sheba.
Since that episode I have tried to as learned as much as I can about how men can help victims of sexual assault. I remembered my own panic and confusion in a time when she needed support and this has stayed with since. If I ever I found myself in a similar situation again I wanted to be in a better position to offer more support. With that in mind I have shared some of the things I have learned about the role than men in particular can play in helping rape victims heal below. If you as man ever find yourself in a situation where a rape victim turns to you for support hopefully some of this information will help.
A Man’s Guide to helping a Woman who has been raped
According to Matt Atkinson of the organization Resurrection after rape ‘ Males can have some of the greatest effects on a woman’s recovery. Depending on how we approach our role as helpers, we can either make her experience worse or better; we can either react badly or devastate her, or we can be one “key” in her recovery and healing. Since half of raped women turn to a male as their first source of help and advice, we play a crucial role in both the short-term and long-term experiences she has after the assault.
Although we men often want to help the survivor, we are often unprepared to be effective. We might think of rape as a “woman’s problem,” or assume that it’s something they can just “get over.” Or we may assume they’ll never “get over” it; that she will always be impure or “dirty” because of what someone else did. Maybe we realize we’re even angry at her, being critical of her decisions (“you put yourself in that situation!”) or wanting violent revenge against her attacker. As a result, a lot of poor decisions are made by well-meaning helpers.
Rape myths that men can help end
• Rape is a power crime, not a sex crime. Sex is the method of rape, not the goal.
• The victim is not responsible–even slightly–for what a rapist has chosen to do. Even if we
disagree with some of her decisions during the incident, some of her responses are instincts
(not choices), and even when she does choose some of her actions, no choices make rape
deserved, natural, or even likely. Only a rapist’s choice to attack makes a rape happen.
• All humans–men and women–have three instincts when we feel out life is threatened: Fight,
flight, or freeze. None of these choices is “better” than the other, so we should resist judging
a victim who did something other than “what I would have done in that situation…”
• Nearly all rape survivors will blame themselves or feel guilty after the rape. This is an
unhealthy but natural way for her to psychologically protect herself by trying to figure out
what she “did wrong,” so she’ll be able to “fix it” and keep it from happening again. It is
Important that you not go along with it, and even disagree and insist that none of it was her
You can help her by:
• Knowing the myths, and not falling for them
• Understanding what she is going through and why she blames herself
• Listening without asking prying questions, but also reminding her that she is not to blame
• Allowing her to make decisions to regain control (except the decision to blame herself; you
will gently but solidly teach her that she is not at fault)
You can access the full guide HERE