Why did she tell me she was raped?
January 3, 2011 2:05 PM   Subscribe

She told me she was raped. Why?

I recently started very casually dating a girl I've had a crush on for a few months. Things have been slow going, but purposefully so. She knows I'm only a year out of a really long relationship and she said she had history too, so we shouldn't rush things. I've been fine with that because I still have lots of relationship issues I'm working through and I'm admittedly just a confused ass when it comes to figuring out who/what I want right now.

The other night (admittedly after much drinking) she started acting very strangely around my friends. After we were alone I kind of called her on it and she bust out with the fact that she had been raped in the past. She then proceeded to claim that this now meant I'd never want to touch her nor would I be interested in her. She was of course wrong.

This has been a bit much on my head though. I'm not totally sure why she decided to confide in me so early, but I feel honored that she trusts me with this info. I'm a bit concerned though that I now have some extra power to hurt her. We haven't been at this long at all, what if I start to think it won't work out? Also, we haven't talked about exclusivity at all, but maybe she is assuming it?

I guess I'm looking for input from others who have had lovers/SOs that have confided such things in you. Also any input from rape victims who have confided in others. What made you do it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Alcohol. Seriously.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:09 PM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm curious as to what your friends were doing/ saying before she disclosed to you. Could they have said or done something that caused her to feel unsafe around them?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:12 PM on January 3, 2011 [16 favorites]

maybe she's the kind of person who doesn't think it's a deep dark secret. maybe she's the kind of person who uses her past trauma as an excuse for current bad behavior. maybe she was drunk and blurted something personal out. maybe she feels like anyone she sleeps with should know - for either her comfort or theirs. maybe she just wanted to.

i mean, there's a million reasons someone might share something like this with you. i think you're reading too much into it. i'm surprised when i find out one of my friends doesn't know i've been raped.
posted by nadawi at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the rape element is clouding your judgment here. Let's say she had confessed something significantly less serious, even trivial, but no less something you maybe don't tell everyone, like that she used to have cancer or a drug problem.* Imagining this, it sounds like she maybe had a few too many and started saying things that she ordinarily wouldn't. The right course of action is of course to pretend it never happened, unless she brings it up. And remember: you are not her therapist. Trust her that she will make the decision that's right for her to bring up or not bring up what she said.

*I'm blanking on a good example here, but I do understand that being raped is different from these things in a serious, qualitative way, not merely a difference of degree.
posted by Electrius at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit concerned though that I now have some extra power to hurt her.

This strikes me as an odd and possibly disturbing way to put it. You now have the power to hurt her how? By holding the rape against her? By telling others? Do you not believe you're trustworthy or compassionate enough not to do such things?

In any case, my own experience in confiding sexual assault early to someone was a kind of complicated thing. Part of it was a way to express a certain level of trust, whether real or projected -- i.e., a sort of "I feel close to you [or want to feel close to you] and so am telling you this scary thing." In another way, it was kind of a way to signal "hey, if I act crazy or fucked up sometimes, this is why, so this is my excuse ahead of the fact" and/or "I want you to be protective of me when I feel unsafe." It wasn't the most emotionally healthy or direct way to communicate those things, to be sure, but it's where I was at the time (early 20s).
posted by scody at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2011 [8 favorites]

(Hey, OP! You can't stay anon if you reply to the thread!)

Some people are more open about these things than others. I once met a girl in a bar who blurted out that she tried to kill herself once within an hour. I have very close friends who take years to tell me things. She may have just suddenly thought 'hey, he should know this...'
posted by mippy at 2:19 PM on January 3, 2011

We can't tell you why she told you, but she can.

The idea that someone should keep his or her rape history a secret sort of implies that there's something shameful about it. Some people do feel shame about it, and plenty of people feel private about it, but others don't.

No matter what, though, it can be hard to bring up, because there's so much cultural baggage around rape and what it means to be a rape victim. I don't think her having confided in you should change your relationship at all, in terms of continuing it or not, or exclusivity or not.

What it should do is make you ask HER these questions, though. Find out if there are things that evoke bad memories, if there are topics that are off-limits for her, or sexual activities or styles or positions that trigger her. Communicate, gently and with sensitivity.
posted by rosa at 2:27 PM on January 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Not that I'm AWARE of. She can often times feel uncomfortable in highly social situations and we were in a pretty crowded bar and it was the first time she met this group of friends so she could have just been feeling anxious. She became very standoff-ish and was not acting like her normal self at all.

roomthreeseventeen, I agree that the alcohol helped elicit the catharsis, but I don't believe that's the ONLY reason she told me.

scody, no! I would never use the information against her! I'm not concerned about that. I'm worried that she's suddenly placed a huge amount of trust and emotional dependency in me and have suddenly found myself with a girl who assumes I'm her boyfriend.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:29 PM on January 3, 2011

triggers are crazy things. for instance, i have to let people know that the smell of non-cooking vanilla (lotion, soap, perfume) can make me freak the fuck out. i don't like people coming up behind me unless i know who they are. a particular alcohol can trigger me. certain looks in certain men. sometimes it's a facial expression or a turn of phrase. triggers aren't always "i feel unsafe" but sometimes are "this irrational thing reminds me of the trauma and my brain gets stuck in a loop."

a lot of rape survivors are weird in social situations and meeting new people. there's no reason to discount that as a trigger.

we can't tell you why she told you. if i were you, i'd file it as something you know and move on as before.
posted by nadawi at 2:33 PM on January 3, 2011 [23 favorites]

I'm worried that she's suddenly placed a huge amount of trust and emotional dependency in me and have suddenly found myself with a girl who assumes I'm her boyfriend.

I see, thanks for clarifying! I think it's an important issue that you raise here; if it was a Big Deal for her to confide in you, then yes, there may be an unspoken message of wanting or assuming a higher level of emotional intimacy than you are feeling. I think Rosa's tips for communicating with her gently and openly are the only way to find out for sure.
posted by scody at 2:34 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, I was raped, too. See? It's something people who were raped sometimes choose to share with other people, even people they don't know very well.

Your only obligation is to act regarding that information with courtesy and respect. You don't have to be her boyfriend just because she confided this difficult life experience to you, nor do you have to break up with her just because she confided this difficult life experience to you.

That said, I might ask her what inspired her to share that information with you at that juncture. (I chose to share that information with you at this juncture just to underscore that lots of people have experienced rape in their lifetimes, and that everyone has their own choices about communicating that information to others.) If she feels that having had that experience makes her "damaged goods" or similar, she probably needs to do some more work with a professional on coming to terms with her pain and her emotions and the (possible) judgment and second-guessing she gets from others. If she feels like you have to help her with that process, I would question whether that's appropriate to a very new dating relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:36 PM on January 3, 2011 [18 favorites]

This has probably been hanging around her neck for quite some time, since before she met you, and the alcohol brought it out. She may genuinely believe that her rape marks her as unwantable, even if you disagree.

Instead of ignoring it, say something like "You mentioned something very personal the other night. If you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen anytime. If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay too, and I won't bring it up. But it doesn't affect how I think of you."

I'm guessing the "I'm a bit concerned though that I now have some extra power to hurt her" line means "I'm worried that she may be emotionally fragile and that I have to be extra careful to avoid hurting her." Right?
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:38 PM on January 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

And if her answer is "Your friend Steve reminds me of the guy who raped me," you don't have to do anything about that except listen. Don't try to solve this problem, because it's not yours to solve; neither "Well, then we'll never see Steve again!" nor "Are you saying I can never see Steve again?" are helpful interventions, whereas "I'm so sorry" is a good start.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:40 PM on January 3, 2011 [10 favorites]

She told you she was raped because in her estimation it was time to tell you she was raped. Maybe something happened to trigger that reaction and she wanted you to know why she was acting strangely.

She got maudlin about it because it has maybe been an issue in past relationships and she was drunk.

Listen to her and take cues from her. The chances are pretty high that she has the occasional trigger but for the most part has normal reactions. In other words, if you decide this won't work out, this really won't have anything to do with that. Survivors of rape don't turn into ashes if they get dumped, unless they're vampires and you do it at dawn. Exclusivity is the same - it's not really pertinent to what she told you. But if you're not sure about exclusivity then maybe you should bring it up, apart from this discussion.

The long and the short of it is that you have a level of trust in your head at which you're supposing a person would need to be before you'd tell them you'd been raped, if you were raped. She does too but there's no guarantee your respective levels are the same. It might not be something she's very ashamed of, or keeps secret if she doesn't have to, and good for her if so.

Like I said, just listen to her and communicate as much as you can. Keep taking things slow.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:47 PM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Eventually, I think most people want to tell the people that mean a lot to them about their life. About their triumphs. About their defeats. And about all of the things that have been important landmarks along the way, that taken collectively have molded them into the person they are today.

It is easiest to tell the good stuff. Harder, perhaps, to divulge the more difficult parts. But by making it part of her story, acknowledging to someone she is casually dating that it did happen, it sounds like she is dealing with it in a healthy way. It sounds like she is still processing what happened to her, as evinced by her wondering if you'd still want to be with her after knowing what happened. But it sounds like she working through it.
posted by arnicae at 3:38 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with scody such that it seems like it's the emotional intimacy that's kind of freaking you out, not necessarily the content of her disclosure (although yes, it can be jarring to know that someone you care about has gone through such a traumatic experience. As a rape survivor myself, I do sometimes worry that a guy is going to treat me as if I'm fragile as a result--fortunately, this has never happened).

The intimacy of her disclosure seems like it's forced you to evaluate where you stand with her, and think about if you feel the same degree of closeness to her that she appears to feel with you. It can be weird to us when someone reveals too much too soon; this is explained somewhat by social penetration theory, which looks at personal disclosures in the context of developing a social relationship with someone. Without getting too clinical, this may have just felt like too much to know too soon. It could be a result of the situation making her uncomfortable, the alcohol, or perhaps the experience has been integral to her sense of self and she feels like it's important for you to know. The only way to find out is to talk to her about it with sensitivity and without judgment. As others in this thread have mentioned, we've built up this idea that rape isn't something people are open about, but it's not a taboo subject for everyone.
posted by Fuego at 4:34 PM on January 3, 2011

You're reading too much into it. This is important information to know about someone you're dating. I was dating someone who revealed this to me on the 3rd or 4th date. I don't see anything weird about that.

This doesn't have to be a huge issue between the two of you. Seems like you're trying to turn it into one.
posted by John Cohen at 4:51 PM on January 3, 2011

Here is what I would like from you, if this were me. Sometime when neither of you are drunk, when you're not in an overstimulated social environment, and when you're just sort of hanging out and being comfortable together, tell her that you've been thinking about the fact that she was raped, that it makes you sad and angry for the trauma she's gone through and proud of the fact that she's survived to tell you, and that it doesn't change the way you see her - it's just one more part of the pretty cool person she is. If you feel like it, tell her she's welcome to talk to you about it or to let it go, and then, unless she indicates that she wants to talk about it more, ... move on from there to some other conversation. Don't let this one fact about her color the entire way you interact with her.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You said her behavior began to be different around your friends and seemed inappropriate to you. I wonder if perhaps she wasn't in a situation (in crowd, a group of men, things that were said, whatever) that was triggering her--basically making her feel as frightened, panicky, doomed, whatever, as she did when she was raped and that is why she blurted it out as she did. It's pretty hard to explain to al new/potential boyfriend, that his friends sound/look/joke/stand around/whatever exactly like the person/s who raped me. At least consider that something was triggering her when she was behaving so inappropriately and you did not know at all what was going on in her head. Maybe it was just feeling a little drunk and being around a bunch of guys.

I concur, talk to her. This doesn't sound like a ploy to hook you into something. Rape is a lot more common than you probably imagine.
posted by Anitanola at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

My impression is that good guys end up being on the receiving end of this kind of disclosure a lot. It can be easier to confess intimate details to a lover or love interest - it can even feel good. It's too rarely acknowledged that men are the repositories of these secrets and know a lot (and are affected by) the trauma suffered by women in their lives. In fact, as a woman, I suspect that in general some guys have a much better picture of what goes on than I do, because I am not privy to these secrets.

So, take it as a sign that she trusts you, and keep on being nice and respectful and caring, and expect to hear stories like this again.
posted by mrs. sock at 6:59 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might be the first guy she's dated since and she might be having a hard time dealing with it all.
posted by fshgrl at 7:52 PM on January 3, 2011

Agree that it's not an issue and that unless there's more here, you seem to be the one turning it into one. This part especially ("I'm worried that she's suddenly placed a huge amount of trust and emotional dependency in me and have suddenly found myself with a girl who assumes I'm her boyfriend"). This is about what you're bringing to the table. Someone confides in you and some tiny part of you is like "don't be assuming we mean anything to each other! This isn't permanent! Don't count on me for anything!" Just forget about yourself and your dating relationship and be a decent human being or even a friend to her about this. Avoid inserting your own fears (of expectations being placed on you, of commitments) into an already hard situation. Being raped (I assume) is tough enough without people getting all "what do you want from me? who am I to you?" when you tell them. Not that you would do that; you sound like a nice person who would override this instinct toward weirdness; but this assumption that confidences are burdens and unwanted commitments will be something you'll have to work uphill against until you let it go. I once confided I just broke up with someone to the daily older woman at the bus stop because she saw the tears in my eyes. She said something like "ah dear, I hope you feel better soon," and that was it. I didn't expect anything from her, and I didn't think it made us BFFs or anything. Maybe you can think of examples in your own life when you just wanted someone to know what your reality was.
posted by salvia at 8:44 PM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi OP. I vote that she told you both because of the alcohol and the social situation. I'd wager something about the social situation with your friends at that event triggered rape-related fight-or-flight feelings for her, and under the influence of alcohol, she felt unable to control her behavioral response. I bet she felt like her secret was 100% transparent because she could not manage her anxiety in front of you and your friends, which led to fear and insecurity, which led to her calling out for help (telling you about the rape).

The rest of it (i.e. assuming you'd never want to touch her again or be interested in her) is her own insecurity at having blurted out such an intimate secret that she has understood to be offputting in relationships (whether it be from popular perception or personal experience). I also get what you mean by having extra power to hurt her. She inadvertently trusted you with a HUGE secret that a manipulative asshole probably would use to shame her. From the sounds of it, she's probably had some of that experience too.

My advice: even though this was premature as far as the relationship goes, just be her friend about it. She's telling you because she wants to be able to trust you the next time she's around the friend(s) whose company triggered the fear response, and to know that she has an allie in you should she inexpicably need help (even if it's just making it easy for her to leave the situation).

Others are right that this is ultimately hers to deal with. Do give her credit that she's been dealing with it on her own already, and will continue to do so. If you're still interested in a relationship with her, be patient and let her explain herself at her own pace. In the meantime, there's no harm in a friendship approach on this one particular front as you continue to get to know her.

IME the premature sharing of a personal detail like this usually comes from feeling desperate in an unexpected situation that triggers the fight-or-flight response and proximity to someone I instinctively trust.
posted by human ecologist at 9:51 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I knew a rape victim who told her boyfriend she was raped - this came after the boyfriend was making jokes about rape (as more guys do than probably should). I was with a rape victim when a roommate's friend, who we were meeting for the FIRST time, made a joke about raping the girl living next door to him (not us) because he didn't have a girlfriend and was feeling horny. I sat next to a rape victim as two of my (former) friends talked about how a friend of theirs raped a girl - they said it was bad and he was an awful person, but they were still friends with him and ignored my repeated attempts to get them to stop telling the story. You say the girl was acting weird around your friends - is there any possibility your friends said something to trigger her? And think carefully - I've noticed when a group of guys say something like, "I got raped by that test!" not a single one of the guys will flinch but most of the girls go quiet. Even something you could have thought was a simple joke (there are still popular date-rape jokes out there about getting women drunk before sex) could fly under your radar, but not hers. The fact that you asked her about her stranger behavior with your friends and THAT is what she said really makes me wonder.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:04 PM on January 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

I once asked out a lady who'd been raped, and she confided to a mutual friend (after she agreed to go out, but delayed making the date) that "he wouldn't want me, because I'm too broken."

Self-blame is a strong, common problem after sexual assault, and I don't mean right after - she was raped as a child, and had dated since then. But recent events had triggered PTSD-like fears in her (IANAPsych), and made it all fresh & new.

Triggers are inscrutable sometimes, especially to outsiders. Don't overthink it; be supportive, but be aware you can't fix things.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:03 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Self blame is a huge part of recovery for a lot of survivors.

And there's every chance that hanging with your friends drinking became awfully triggery. Hell, I still walk out of family gatherings because people just don't get 'don't touch me'. Alcohol can make people touchy feely and even if they aren't malicious/sexual, it can violate your boundaries and make things unhappy. And they can be unhappy for an extended period of time which is likely to be exacerbated if you take her admission and make it about you and what you want and what you expect.

So if you've had a bunch of dudes saying dudely things, and women getting all huggy, he might have just hit a perfect storm of shit and blurted it out. It might just have been watching them all have fun and not care and know that she's not going to feel like they do or act like they do and therefore not be an appropriate partner.

There are lots of things. Only she knows the reason. But please do not make this all about you because that reinforces a lot of the things that complicate recovery for many survivors.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:34 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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