Sexual assault has unfortunately always been a prevalent force throughout history, and within the past few years, its presence has been made more known through movements and organizations like #MeToo and Its On Us. We are more aware than ever of how prevalent sexual assault is in our society for women, men, and non-binary persons. Some statistics report that one in every three women and one in every six men will experience some form of sexual assault or harassment in their life time. The statistics are even higher for persons not falling into either of those categories.
Sexual intimacy is a component of life that many—if not most—of us will engage in. And with statistics being so high for sexual assault rates, it is not unlikely that one of us will at some point be with a partner who has experienced sexual assault. If you have not experienced sexual assault or harassment, it can be difficult to determine how to experience physical intimacy with someone who has. These are some personal tips I have personally found to be effective in my own relationships:
If this person is someone you love and care about, know that there may be times when they are unable to engage in physical intimacy because of their past traumas. It can take them a little longer to open up emotional and physically to someone after their negative experiences. Consent is obviously of the upmost importance at all times, and especially with victims of sexual assault. Make it clear that they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to at any point in time, and that you respect whatever their choices are. Trauma affects the physical and mental self, and a person’s behavior after an assault is their way of protecting themself in the best way they know how. Educating yourself on trauma effects can be helpful to try and understand what they are going through so you can better support them.
Support their healing process
Everyone heals in different ways, and healing can be a lifelong and adapting process for some people. Make sure you are supporting them in their healing, whether it be through counseling, physical exercise, writing, or more. Know the difference between healthy healing processes and destructive coping mechanisms such as numbing through drugs and alcohol. Everyone heals on their own time frame, this isn’t something that can be forced.
Don’t force them to talk about what happened
Sexual assault is a humiliating and traumatizing experience, and recounting what happened can often retraumatize victims. No one should force or encourage victims to retell their experience, it is theirs to share whether it takes a long time or not. Some may never want to talk about it, and that is something that should be respected. There is a difference between having privacy and suppressing emotion. If a person’s behavior seems withdrawn, depressed, or non-improving, it can be effective to tell them it might be a good idea to talk to a professional about their experience or at least their emotions on the matter. Suppressing emotion bottles up frustration, humiliation, guilt, and more, and is ineffective in the healing process.
I hope these tips were helpful for anyone wanting insight on how to engage in a relationship with someone who has experienced sexual assault. Though there are not very many tips listed here, several recovery centers also write more detailed tips for how to support and love someone through their healing process while engaging in physical intimacy.
- Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault
- Helping a Survivor of Sexual Assault
- How to Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted