My friend has been raped; how do I help?
Vivian opened the door to a tearful and blubbering Mabel. After calming her down, she gleaned that Mabel had just been drugged and raped at a party she attended. Vivian was confused on the next course of action, but she did her best to console her friend.
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability or is below the legal age of consent.
Victims of rape may be male or female. However, the vast majority of rape victims are female; that includes 90% of all adult victims and 82% of all juvenile victims. UNICEF reported in 2015 that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria had experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.
In many instances, the first unchecked instinct when we hear about rape, might be to ask the victim, “could you have done anything to prevent this?”. The answer is no; we must understand that rape is more about power than it is about sex. The only cause of rape is a rapist.
When faced with the rape of a loved one, friend, family or even acquaintances, here are a few helpful guidelines:
- Do attempt to calm them down and comfort them. Sometimes, this involves just holding them quietly. However, some rape victims don’t want to be touched and their wishes should be respected.
- As soon as possible, accompany them to the hospital and encourage them to request for a rape kit. They might be reluctant to pursue legal action but change their mind later. A kit will come in handy in building a case. Ensure this is done before they take a shower. At this point, you should involve their family members if they are interested in doing so.
- While at the hospital, ensure they are tested for any infections and given medication like Post-exposure prophylaxis (or PEP) and contraceptives.
- Assist them to draw a bath and stay with them while they get clean if they are comfortable with that. Staying with them will mitigate the risk of them self-harming.
- Create an atmosphere of safety so that they can confide in you. Listen to their narration of events, tactfully ask them questions to get more details. You may record it if they are comfortable. If they decide to pursue legal action, a recording will help them remember finer details that might have been forgotten later.
- Refrain from blaming the victim. Don’t ask things like, “what were you wearing” or “why did you follow them?”. They are unproductive and unsympathetic.
- After an appropriate amount of time, present to them options of seeking therapy, legal action or any other activity you think might help them heal from the experience.
Rape is a serious issue, and with its prevalence, it is possible that you come across a victim of rape at least once in your lifetime. It is also probable that you become a victim yourself. Therefore, it is prudent that we have the right information and empathy to handle such situations should they arise.
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