When you love your partner, you love them for their laugh, their quirks, their past, and their present. If your current romantic partner has experienced sexual assault in the past, there are myriad ways you can be supportive and helpful in their healing journey.
Along with supporting your partner, these bits of advice from sexual violence experts and advocates will help everyone and anyone become a better ally to survivors. After all, chances are someone you love is a survivor. According to a 2019 Association of American Universities survey, 25% of women college students experience sexual violence. Additionally, 23.1% of transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming university students have been sexually assaulted, as reported by RAINN. Here are the best ways to be supportive to your partner who has experienced sexual assault in the past.
Dr. Carine Mardorossian is a professor in the Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies located at the University of Buffalo. Through her research on sexualized violence, she shares the best way to understand sexual assault survivors is whether or not they’re your partner. “Educate yourself and don’t expect them to educate you,” Dr. Mardorossian tells Her Campus. “Encourage them to seek assistance to deal with their trauma and express certainty and trust that they will overcome whatever flight or fight response their brain may have adopted, for now.
Education can come in the form of talking to trusted experts, taking a gender studies class at school, watching various documentaries about the topic, and even consulting your therapist or healthcare provider. Plus, countless organizations provide extensive materials and statistics to read up on, including RAINN, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, End Rape On Campus, and many more.
Dr. Mardorossian further advises partners to “know that this is something they will be able to handle and overcome. Be calm. No drama, tears, or emotions need to accompany the understanding. This is not something for you to take on, handle, or make yours.”
Academics Against Assault is an organization run by Gen-Z students pushing for better sex education at the university level, well-being services for victims, and to reduce stigma around sexual violence. Project Officer Meera Saravanan tells Her Campus, “We believe it is important to understand that every individual reacts in different ways, and that nobody is alone on their journeys. The first step to communicating effectively is to understand that your partner is valid in their feelings, but to then actively work on yourself to further educate yourself on how assault can manifest itself.”
Knowing that survivors are not a monolith will aid in communicating with your partner. When conversations arise, allow your partner to feel anything and everything that comes up. Plus, there’s no need to pressure your partner into a conversation, just let them know you’re willing to be there for them if and when they’re ready. “Creating a safe space for your partner to feel comfortable to share is key, and your willingness to listen is the first step,” Saravanan says.
Cal* runs a sexual awareness Instagram account and uses social media to share helpful info for survivors and allies alike. As an S.A. survivor, they share that “the most crucial part is just communicating and taking things slow. Do not rush into intimacy in a relationship, physical touch and intimacy should be enjoyed and should be a positive experience. There is no rule on when to start physical touch, it should be done when both partners are ready and comfortable to do so, and with consent.”
Patience is key in all aspects, from mental healing all the way to physical intimacy. Healing is not linear, so going slow is definitely vital. Additionally, Insider notes that if physical intimacy is triggering, find new ways to express love. This can include sending each other handwritten notes, watching comfort movies with each other, experimenting in the kitchen, and beyond.
*Name changed for anonymity
Use Your Resources
There are so many ways to always continue your education when it comes to supporting, not just your partner, but all survivors of sexual assault. Many resources exist across social media platforms you frequent daily. Make sure you’re always up to date by following a few of these creators. You can check out Instagram pages such as Academics Against Assault and S.A. Awareness mentioned above as well as:
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.