Rape and sexual coercion

Reactions of the social environment

The reactions of the environment, relatives and friends and acquaintances are very important for rape victims and for the coping process.

The rape of a close person is also a strain for the close social environment and results in different reactions. Girls and women affected are often confronted with doubt, rejection, reproaches or apportionment of blame. Questions, such as “Why did you go home with him?” or “Why didn’t you defend yourself?” lead the victim to believe that her credibility is questioned, and that part of the blame is down to her.

Playing things down with phrases such as “Just forget it quickly.” or “Well, it can’t have been that bad.” is something that occurs frequently, and ensue from the close person’s discomfort and/or inability and helplessness in coping with the situation.

Sympathetic and sensitive individuals close to the victim can also become an additional strain if they excessively confront the victim with their own feelings of rage, helplessness, sadness, powerlessness or desire for revenge. Many women then dissociate and stop talking about the rape so as to protect their environment emotionally.

The feelings of close relatives of rape victims are occasionally also expressed with inconsiderate and rash actions, e.g. a confrontation with the perpetrator, or filing a criminal offence report. This is not always in the interest of the woman or girl concerned, who has to bear the consequences of such actions.

Individuals close to raped women may also need the support of specialised counselling centres.

First and foremost, giving rape victims support and help involves the following:

  • Encourage the woman/ girl to talk about the traumatic experience and at the same time accept if she does not want to or cannot talk about it.
  • It is important to listen to her sympathetically without open or hidden doubts and without being judgemental, without minimising the issue, without rejecting her, without prejudices and without reproaching her. The responsibility for the incident always lies with the attacker.
  • The woman/girl affected should not be overwhelmed by the emotions of those close to her. The rape crisis centres also offer free-of-charge consultations for friends or family members caring for rape victims. This consultation helps them to cope with their own experiences and problems in this difficult situation.
  • Nobody should take steps without the woman’s/girl’s consent. In particular, legal measures should only be taken as an informed choice and in consultation with the woman/girl involved.
  • Even well-intentioned advice and help can make the person involved feel patronised, especially if repeated insistently. Rape victims should be encouraged to trust their own decisions, needs and wishes – each woman and each girl can only come to terms with the sustained act of violence in her own way.  There are no hard and fast rules for this.
  • Partners of rape victims are often confronted with sexual difficulties in their relationship and reach the limits of their own ability to withstand the strain. Partners may also make use of professional support.