We had an absolutely excellent presentation at our team meeting on Sunday about responding to disclosures of sexual abuse or assault. Our presenter was a domestic violence & sexual abuse counselor, a court-appointed Special Advocate for abused children, a state-certified Mandated Reporter trainer and all around amazing woman with a passion for helping people. I wish I could share her name here because she is really the one who deserves credit for what I am about to share.
As Pure Romance (or Passion Party or other romance company) consultant, we are in the business of making women feel comfortable and secure when talking about sex. You will probably at some point have a woman share with you that she has been a victim of sexual assault. This can happen at any time, but most often occurs in the privacy of the ordering room. This is not unique to our industry though. Disclosures can happen in any personal relationship with a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, student, parent, etc. Here are some pointers on how to respond when a someone says:
“I’ve been raped in the past and now have a hard time enjoying sex.”
Know that it is not usually a physical issue, but rather a psychological barrier. Recovery is a process that may need to be repeated in a person’s lifetime (i.e. after child birth, menopause, a loved one being victimized) We can’t fix it. We can only offer support to the person on their journey.
Know that it is all too common and grossly underreported. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime1. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday2. Of all of these, only 1 in 4 females and about 1 in 8 males will ever disclose the assault3. For adult women, about 76% of attacks will be an intimate partner – someone they have dated, lived with or married4. For children and teens, 90% will know their attacker5. Less than 8% of all sexual abuse claims are FALSE. For teens and youth, less than 4%!!! 6
Know that some subsets of customers not only experience rape but are even less likely to report it. These groups include: adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the LBGTQ community, people in the BDSM “Scene” and adult industry workers.
Know that rape is not about sex!!!!! It is about power and control. It is a crime of opportunity.
Know that they are likely embarrassed, ashamed, nervous, even though they may pretend not to be. Victims feel like the culture puts the blame on them and they in turn blame themselves. “I shouldn’t have been there.” “I shouldn’t have been drinking.” “I should have just known better.”
Know that it is NEVER, EVER, EVER the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter where she was, what she was doing, what she was wearing, what she might have agreed to. If she didn’t want it and was unable to say no (due to threat or incapacitation) or said no and was ignored: IT WAS RAPE.
With these facts in mind, here is how you should respond:
- Stay calm.
- Support. “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- Affirm. “Thank you for sharing this with me, that must have been difficult.”
- Believe. “It’s not your fault”
- Empower! “You have the right to be safe. This may have happened in your life but it doesn’t have to be your WHOLE life”. “You are so strong! You should be very proud of the way you have gotten through this” (or are getting through, or can get through, depending on how recent the assault)
- Encourage. Let them know that there is no shame in needing help, no matter how long ago the assault. Especially if the assault has been recent, they express issues, or desire for more info.
- Cry. Unless, of course, they do and you can’t help it.
- Call the police. That is not your call to make. (Unless it falls under mandated reporting.)
- Get angry! Threatening to shoot the perp is generally a bad idea.
- Ignore the disclosure.
Remember! Someone just trusted you with probably the worst (or one of the worst) experiences of their lives.
Honor that. Thank them. Respect it.
The selling becomes secondary.
In terms of selling or product recommendations:
- If her partner really wants her to try something she isn’t comfortable with, remind them that she has the right to set her own limits. Typically, this will be either be something that reminds her of the assault or a loss of control in the sexual experience.
- If she is willing to try it anyway, guide her to products that make it safe and comfortable for her. And remind her that every couple, not just bdsm couples, should have a safe word – a word other than “stop” or “no” to indicate that all activity must stop because the person is feeling unsafe, out of control or triggered.
FINALLY- Take care of you! A disclosure may bring back feelings if you yourself have been assaulted. Anyone who gets a disclosure becomes emotionally invested and may experience grief, no matter how little you know the person. Be aware and recognize your own emotions.
I hope this brief overview is helpful. One of the reasons I got involved with Pure Romance is because I feel so strongly about the empowerment of women and giving them a voice. I have been honored to hear and bear witness to the burdens and triumphs of many women. It’s been a beautiful, painful, humbling experience.
1 George Mason University, Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, 2005
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: Data and Statistics. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2005.
4Tjaden and Thoennes, Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1998