Dating and Loving a Sexual Assault Survivor
Victims of sexual assault share one very real truth in common – they no longer trust anyone. Many victims express not even trusting themselves. This is one of the reasons dating or making new friends after an assault becomes so difficult. Another reason is that the victim had little control over what caused the sexual assault. Sexual assault is not about sex – it’s about control. Like all crimes, something is taken without the victim’s consent. It can never be given back. Assaulting or controlling someone’s intimacy, sexuality, and body is a heinous act that remains with the victim long after the perpetrator has been punished and sentenced.
Approximately one out of five women and one out of every 33 men have been sexually assaulted. We don’t talk about these statistics in the dating world. Dating apps have no space in the profile to write that you are a victim of sexual assault and, even if they did, who would answer the question honestly? Trusting someone with something so intimate takes years; couples are often married for more than ten years before their partner reveals that they have been a victim of sexual assault.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or dating someone who has confided in you about their assault, it is important that you understand your dating life will be different. The most important thing you can do in your relationship is establishing a level of trust. This takes time and requires great patience. Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re dating a sexual assault survivor:
Feeling safe is important if you’ve been sexually traumatized in the past. Show escape doors to your date and be sure that you don’t make demands with transportation (e.g. if they need to drive their car and meet you somewhere allow them that space). Always let them know their safety is your primary concern.
Sexual assault survivors may be triggered by loud noises, smells, and sudden movements. Survivors need to be in control of their own body and space. Don’t plan surprises until they know you very well. Surprises that may delight others can be a source of anxiety and fear for sexual assault survivors.
During intimacy, sexually assaulted survivors may withdraw or express feeling numb or not into it. This is not them rejecting you. This is a learned response to protecting themselves. This can improve with counseling and time to foster trust and intimacy.
Know yourself. Survivors talk about their life after being sexually assaulted as never going back to normal. They sometimes feel as though things will never feel “right.” Over time, with counseling and mental health intervention, they can learn to trust again. Not every partner can manage the emotions of the survivor, and it’s important that you’re honest with yourself and them.
No survivor of sexual assault should ever feel shameful or guilty. Sexual assault is a crime about controlling and manipulating another person. It attacks the most intimate, vulnerable part of a person. Don’t let one person’s deviant, manipulative behavior generalize all the people you can love. Take your time and get the mental health care necessary to help you work through your pain and trust yourself to love again.