Afraid to see rapist

Dear Alice,

I was date raped by a man who I was seeing. I had broken it off with him a month before, but got into a situation where he attacked me. The problem now is he is friends with many of my friends, and he works at a place I must go to frequently. I haven't told my friends because I don't want them to confront him. I haven't seen the man since he raped me and I am afraid to. I know my friends will want to see him, and I know I will eventually run into him. I guess my question is what do I do when I see him? I don't want to talk to him, but I am afraid he will try and talk to me. I am scared of my reaction and don't want to have a freak out in front of my friends (although I know that they would understand). How can I leave this situation behind and resume normal life, not being afraid of seeing him in my everyday life?

Dear Reader, 

First and foremost, thank you for sharing your experiences—it's extremely brave of you to reach out. Your desire not to see or interact with the person who harmed you is perfectly understandable and many survivors, such as yourself, are faced with the painful dilemma: What do I do if I see this person again? Over two-thirds of sexual violence survivors report knowing the person who assaulted them, so know that you are not alone. While you deserve to live your life without fear of seeing or interacting with him, you've acknowledged that it may not be possible right now. That said, it may be helpful to explore some options and think about how you may be able to gain support from those around you in the case that you do see him again. 

You mentioned that you didn't want to tell your friends because you’re afraid that they'll confront him. Some survivors also feel guilt or judgement (from themselves and others) when they talk about their experiences and may worry that those around them will invalidate their experiences. In attempts to avoid this, you may consider asking your friends to attend a session on supporting survivors or read up on how to support a survivor before you tell them. It may also feel more comfortable to talk with someone who isn't mutual friends with the person who harmed you, such as another friend, family member a survivor advocate at a rape crisis center, or a mental health professional. 

It’s understandable to feel frustrated having to think through these things since he’s the one who did something very wrong, not you. You as well as all survivors should be able to move freely in a world free from violence, but as it currently stands, your safety needs to be prioritized. That said, another option to consider is how you can minimize the interaction you have with the person who harmed you. Even if you can't avoid the place where he works entirely, there might be ways to decrease contact. When you go to this place, is it crowded? Are you able to go only when there are many other people present? Is there a way to minimize the likelihood that he would see you? 

If you inevitably run into him, having some pre-determined options may help you to feel more prepared to handle the encounter. Some tips to support you in navigating this interaction include: 

  • Leaning on your support network. Whether you decide to share your experience with friends, family, or a professional, use the support from people around you to create a safe social environment that is free of judgement. 
  • Becoming familiar with safe places. Whatever that may mean to you, ensure you have somewhere you can walk to or go to if you begin to feel uncomfortable. This may be a store nearby or another friend’s place that you can get to safely. 
  • Using a code word. If you’re going to have an interaction with your friend group where he may be present, consider having an understanding with one of your friends and using a code word for a swift exit from the space or conversation if you need it. 
  • Preparing an excuse. If he engages with you, it may help to have an excuse already practiced to assist in a smooth exit from the conversation. 

Adapted from RAINN

In the event that you see him and are able to leave that interaction feeling safe, you may consider following up with him directly and asking for no contact, if you are comfortable. If you don’t want to do this yourself, you might ask one of your friends to help moderate the exchange if you have decided to share the information with someone in the friend group. Of course, he may not respect your wishes. However, making this known (especially over email or text message) may be effective because it's documented evidence. For example, if you send an email or text saying, "Please do not talk to me or interact with me at all” and then he does, there's now documentation that he violated your request. Later, if you feel inclined to take additional action, having evidence of such a violation of your boundaries can be useful. 

Potential actions to escalate the situation may include obtaining a restraining order or notifying police or security. There's a possibility that he would respect your request and stay away from you but, trust your gut with this one and do what feels most likely to work. If you're considering any type of action, it's also useful to your case to write down everything that you can remember, keep any evidence you may have (unwashed clothing items in a paper bag, time-stamped pictures, harmful or intimidating communication, etc.), and speak with an advocate to obtain further information on how to proceed. 

If you are looking for a third-party resource outside of your own network, many communities have rape crisis centers that provide advocates for survivors along the journey to legal justice.  In addition, many colleges and universities have confidential resources for survivors to navigate their reporting systems as well. In most cases, you can bring a friend with you for support, too. Remember, you can stop this process at any time, the advocate is there to support you with whatever you feel comfortable with. 

Know that you are not alone in how you are feeling. You're not at fault for what he did and you're not to blame for this situation. The person who violated you chose to behave in this way. If you're faced with seeing this person, trust your gut to keep yourself physically and mentally safe. 

Healing from trauma takes time and support can be vital in that process. Reaching out to ask your question took strength and courage and that’s a commendable start. 

Last updated Apr 14, 2023
Originally published Aug 10, 2012

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