How To Tell Your Partner You're A Survivor Of Sexual Violence

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
This week on The Bachelor, Caelynn told Colton that she's a survivor of sexual assault. Caelynn said that she and two other friends were date raped in college. When they first went to the hospital, she said they were denied a rape kit, and when they eventually found a hospital that would accept them, it was too late to use a rape kit. The conversation was a deep moment during a one-on-one date, and after her revelation, Bachelor Nation thanked her for being so courageous and sharing her personal story on national TV.
Divulging that you're a survivor of sexual assault is never easy, regardless of whether or not you're on a reality TV show about dating. In the past few years with the #MeToo movement, more and more high-profile figures have shared their experiences with sexual assault, often in very public forums. Talking publicly about sexual assault is one way to remove some of the stigma surrounding survivors, but even having private conversations about the experience with someone you know can be excruciatingly difficult — especially if that person is a potential romantic partner.
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Caelynn is, of course, not alone. Every 98 seconds, another person experiences sexual assault in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). If you're someone who is a survivor of sexual assault and are inspired to share your story with someone close to you, ahead are some tips, as well as advice for how to receive the information.
It's your choice when and how you tell a partner.
Caelynn said she struggled to tell anyone what had happened to her, even her parents. "I wasn't able to open up about it for a long time," she said. "I didn't tell my parents, because I felt so ashamed and so guilty." It can take survivors many years — even decades — to come forward about sexual abuse, because they may worry that they won't be believed, or don't want details about their experience to be twisted or misconstrued.
You don't have to share your experience until you're absolutely ready, and feel like you trust the person you're telling. That might require talking to a therapist who specializes in trauma, says Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist in New York City. You don't have to tell them every single detail, but it's important not to downplay what happened to you, she says. "You want to make sure they understand how you felt and how you feel about it now," she says. "Your partner is going to want to know how to show up for you — especially if something triggers you."
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Set expectations.
Focus on what you need from your partner, but understand that this can be an open dialogue, Wright says. Your partner won't know exactly what you need unless you communicate it, she says. Do you want them to just listen? Do you want them to help you? "If you're open to it, let your partner know that you're open to continuing to answer questions as they come up," and if you're not, make that clear, she says. Or, if you have concerns about being triggered when you're intimate together, be sure to address that beforehand, so they know how to react appropriately.
Everyone reacts differently.
Don't go into the conversation with an expectation for how your partner is going to respond to this information, Wright says. You might let them know how you're feeling about the talk. For example, Wright suggests saying something like: I want to tell you about something and I'm scared to do it. But, I want to tell you. And, what I really need from you is just to listen. And if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them.
"It's not always easy to know what to say when someone tells you they've experienced sexual assault or harassment, especially if that person is a friend or loved one," Sara McGovern, a spokesperson for RAINN told Refinery29. Some Bachelor viewers were disappointed with Colton's reaction to Caelynn's confession; he shared that his last girlfriend was also a survivor of sexual abuse, and compared Caelynn's confession to sharing that he's a virgin on TV. The most important thing you can do when someone tells you they were sexually assaulted is acknowledge their bravery for telling you, emphasize that you believe them, and ask them what you can do to help.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
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