sexual assult victemIt’s not your fault, and it’s not her fault, and you can work through it.

If you’ve never been sexually assaulted, chances are you’ll never really understand it the way an actual victim does. Unfortunately, most of us know at least one woman who’s been raped or assaulted or harassed somehow. Each woman is unique and will uniquely handle her ordeal.

For example, a former friend casually told me that she was raped twice one day, once by a friend of her father’s and another by an ex-boyfriend. She did not appear distraught or even upset; in fact, she boldly stated that she was over it and that it won’t stop her from enjoying a lasting relationship with a man. She’s one of the stronger women I know.

Then there’s my ex-girlfriend. An innocent game of tickling in the dark quickly turned into a full-on hysterical scream fest. That’s how I discovered that she was assaulted twice, and me backing her in a corner in the dark reminded her of those times. Imagine my shock at eighteen years old! I was there for her, but I’ve always wished she’d told me what happened early in the relationship. It would’ve explained a lot, and I acted differently in certain situations.

So then, here are a few suggestions when dating a lesbian who’s experienced sexual assault:

1: When she’s ready to talk about it, listen.

This is of utmost importance; it’s not easy talking about something that hurt and traumatised her! Most women feel a tremendous sense of guilt after the ordeal, berating themselves over and over. Wondering if they in some way caused the assault, maybe if she’d not gotten drunk. Perhaps if she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes, she shouldn’t talk about it for fear that her story would cause people to judge her.

But now she wants to talk to you about it, that’s not easy for her. So listen, be quiet, don’t interrupt and say insensitive things like ‘I know.’ Chances are you can imagine, as women, we can all guess, but unless it happened to you, then you don’t know.

2: If she’s not ready to talk about it, be patient.

So you two have decided you want to date each other, then she tells you she was a victim of rape, but she’s not yet ready to discuss it with you.

Yeah, I know! Talk about a bombshell; now she’s just going to drop it on you and then not talk about it. Wowza.

Still, it’s her decision, and if you are serious about her, you will do well to respect her choice. But in the meantime, what can you do? Perhaps let her know that her revelation does not change how you feel about her. You don’t want her to hurt, and you’d like to learn everything you can do to help/be there for her, which brings me to number three.

3: Try not to expose her to triggers.

How in blazes are you supposed to do this if you don’t even know what her triggers are?! Rape is an immensely traumatic experience; victims will deal with it differently depending on a few factors.

How long ago did it happen? Where did it happen?

If it happened back when she was in middle school, it doesn’t mean she’s over it now that she’s an adult. Still, the PTSD effect might not be as strong, especially if she’s received the right amount and type of counselling.

Knowing where it happened can help you with not exposing her to triggers. In my situation, I did not understand what being backed into a dark corner meant for my ex. Had I known that’s how it happened for her, we never would’ve played that tickle game that she initiated.

4: Sex as we envision it might not be in her immediate future. Or yours.

Notice I said ‘sex as we envision it,’ meaning the things you fantasise about doing to/with her might not happen. You might be the first person she’s dated since the assault. When we like someone, and we begin the process of first-time lovemaking, very often, it’s a process that starts, occurs and then finishes.

It might not go in that particular order, be patient…no matter how painfully aroused you are. She might be ok with light kisses; she might not want you to touch her at all. She might need to be in control; she might promise you she’s ready. Then you kiss, and she tastes the beer you had earlier. Her attacker also smelled like beer. Just like that, she aborts the mission. Don’t make her feel guilty and if you’re mad, please hide it well. This might happen several other times, so be sure you’re up for it. The only thing worse than being honest and telling her you can’t deal is lying to her that you can.

5: She’s wary; she might not trust anyone. Not even you.

This isn’t something she can help, someone hurt her, and now she thinks everyone else could very well do the same.

This doesn’t mean she’s not into you; she just hasn’t regained that part of herself that she lost. I’m going being honest; the road ahead could very well be rockier than the dirt roads in my Caribbean hometown.

If you think she’s worth it, let her know by proving it.

If you’re a queer girl trying to date another queer girl who’s dealing with the after-effects of rape, take heart, for it does get better.

In addition, if you (or anyone you know) is dealing with the effects of sexual assault while trying to date, feel free to check out two books by lesbian fiction author Jae. Conflict of Interest and its sequel Next of Kin are beautiful reads for you and that beautiful queer girl you’re dating.