Some of the best conversations I have with Scarleteen users are through our live chat service. Of course plenty of folks come in with pregnancy worries, just like they do across all direct services, but because it’s more private I’ve found that people are more willing to come in with thornier topics. Sometimes live chat is brutal – there’s still one conversation I can’t bring myself to talk about with anyone because it was so upsetting – but honestly, those harder conversations are usually the ones I like the most because they’re where I feel I can be most helpful.
Days like today, though, I just sign off feeling angry and exhausted. I got a “was this rape” question, which is one of the ones I both love and hate. On the positive side, I have the chance to validate someone’s understanding of their experience, I can use my crisis line training, and sometimes I’m the first person a user has told about an assault, or who’s believed them. The tradeoff is carrying around a lot of traumatic and real rape stories in my head. A much smaller burden, of course, but it adds up over time.
This afternoon was maybe the first time when someone’s question about a friend’s situation really was about a friend, and not a distancing tactic. It was heartbreaking; the scenario was (as always) a very clear-cut case of someone being raped by her partner, but the friend was hesitant to call it that and was placing blame on herself. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as it’s not my story to tell, but it wasn’t ambiguous at all. There was a dude who made a shitty choice to rape his girlfriend, and he probably isn’t having a hard time sleeping at night while she twists herself in knots finding ways to blame herself for his decision to cause harm.
I’m so glad the person who came into chat today felt that something was off and wanted to support her friend by reminding her that she wasn’t at fault. Everyone deserves to have those people around to offer that reassurance and support. Here’s the tricky part, though: in that situation, even if every fiber of your being is screaming “he raped you, you can’t call it anything else” and “this person clearly does not care about your consent or personal safety” and maybe loudest of all “please just get AWAY from him forever,” you can’t necessarily say those things. You have to walk a delicate tightrope of letting someone know that you know their experience wasn’t their fault, that it was wrong, that you see the situation as rape or abuse, without dictating the language they use or demanding they leave their partner.
To do that can push them away, make you no longer a safe person for them to come to in the future if things escalate. To do that will take away the agency of someone whose agency has already been violated.
You can say “I believe you. You weren’t at fault.” Maybe most importantly, you can ask “how can I support you?” Perhaps some day you can provide that support by helping them leave an abusive situation or call a rape crisis line, but you can’t make that call for someone.
I’m so tired of this, y’all. Rape crisis organizations, campus groups, all sorts of people are speaking out, often at a huge personal cost, and so few people care to listen. Recent news has made it pretty fucking clear why so many people who are raped don’t call the police, or make reports to their college campuses, or come forward in their community spaces, or even tell anyone at all. Support, and even basic belief, are thin on the ground right now. I understand why people blame themselves for being raped, considering how many other people are willing to jump in with that blame. It’s heartbreaking, it’s infuriating, it makes me feel like nothing I can do is going to help change anything on a larger scale, but I understand why it happens. I just wish I didn’t.