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. So many people experience many barriers as they consider sharing about difficult experiences related to sexual violence. One common barrier to sharing is if someone has experienced harm by someone they know. In fact, over two-thirds of sexual violence survivors report knowing the person who assaulted them. Because of this, many survivors are faced with the painful dilemma: What do I do if I see this person again? Your desire not to see or interact with the person who harmed you is, of course, perfectly understandable. While you deserve to live your life without fear of seeing him or interacting with him, you've acknowledged that it may not be possible right now. It may be helpful to explore some options in the case that you do see him again and how you may be able to gain support from those around you. 

You mentioned that you didn't want to tell your friends because you're afraid they'll confront him. Friends are often unsure how to best support someone who has experienced sexual violence. Sometimes they think confronting or threatening the person who caused harm, even against the wishes of the survivor, is the best way to show support. They may feel angry, protective, and really unsure about what to do. What they may not realize is that acting in ways that are contrary to the wishes of a survivor can be re-victimizing and re-traumatizing. Taking control away from survivors can be triggering because that dynamic is what the person who caused harm did. Confrontation can also create an unsafe situation for you and your friends. Do you have friends who might be able to understand this and act according to your wishes? If so, telling even one person can make all the difference, especially if they can be with you if or when you may have to see him. Just their silent witnessing of the encounter, and being there for you after, can be hugely supportive.

Some survivors also feel guilt or judgement (from themselves and others) when they talk about their experiences, and they may worry that those around them will invalidate their experiences. If you also feel this way, some college campuses offer “How to support a survivor” workshops for friends, as do some local rape crisis centers. You may consider asking your friends to attend a session or read this webpage 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, or professional. 

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 the 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? Another option may be to let him know ahead of time that you want no contact. 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. So if you send him an email 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 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 for you.

Last, you may consider the reality that it's not right for you to have to encounter someone who has harmed you in this way. With this, there are options for taking action against him — at colleges and universities, and legally through criminal justice processes as well that may remove him from campus. This may make it easier to navigate around campus without seeing him. Deciding whether or not to take action can be very challenging. If you ultimately decide to proceed in this direction, 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 New York City, you can speak with advocates at one of the many rape crisis centers around the city for emotional support and legal guidance. In most cases, you can bring a friend with you for support, too. If you're considering any type of action, it's 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.

Finally, know that your reactions are perfectly normal. You're not at fault for what he did and you're not to blame for this situation, as the person who violated you chose to behave in this way. If you're faced with seeing this person, trust your gut to know what to do. It may also be useful to talk to someone. If you're a student, you may be able to make an appointment at your school's counseling center to speak with a mental health professional about your experiences. You school may also have professionals who specifically support students after experiencing intimate partner violence, such as a survivor advocate. If you're not a student, there may be similar resources in your community, such as rape crisis centers. 

Healing from trauma takes time and support, but it will come. Reaching out to ask your question took strength and courage, so thank you for writing.

Last updated Nov 26, 2021
Originally published Aug 10, 2012

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