10 FAQ to Never Ask a Rape Survivor

So often when rape survivors come out to their friends, family, or partners about their experience they receive ignorant and hurtful questions//reactions that are rooted in rape culture. This trope that rape is a rare occurance that is always perpetrated by a violent (male) stranger in a dark alleyway is untrue on every level. It happens all of the time, to people from all walks of life. As horrific as that is to accept. When a survivor has to deal with skepticism it further silences survivors’ stories. So, here are 10 questions you should never ask a rape survivor. Like, ever.


1. What happened?

When you ask a survivor to tell you what happened to them in detail, they are hearing that you don’t believe them. If for whatever reason you just can’t wrap your head around the fact that they were raped without hearing every detail, second-by-second, please refrain.

Telling someone every detail of your assault is extremely triggering. As someone who has dealt with PTSD, I can tell you that discussing my rape in that much detail is something I have only done with one person. And something I will most likely never do again.

You don’t need to know every detail. Know that this person is speaking their truth because they need your support, not your skepticism. It’s really not that hard to choose to believe someone, to be an ally. We don’t question the validity of burglary victims, or victims of any other crime. Why is it that rape victims face such harsh judgement?

2. Are you sure it was rape?

This question usually stems from the belief that rape is always a violent attack by a stranger in an alleyway. For some reason (ahem, rape culture) people have a hard time believing a survivor if their assault was anything different from that trope.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to believe what this person is telling you. Even if what they tell you changes. Often times PTSD from a traumatic assault can skew your memory and your train of thought. This article is amazing journalistic proof of that.

3. But weren’t you dating?

82% of rapes are done by someone the victim knew. Let that sink in for a minute. 82%.

Out of all the survivors I have spoken with the ones who feel the most shame and the least support are those who were assaulted by a significant other or spouse. They don’t think that anyone will believe them. Especially if their friends are mutual friends of said SO/spouse. They will get responses like “But I know him/her/them, they would never do anything like that.”

Remember that number the next time you hear a survivors story. 82% of rapes are done by someone the victim knew.

4. Why didn’t you get a rape kit?

This woman was charged by a hospital for her rape kit. They are not cheap. Often times we will talk about PTSD, victim blaming, and other important factors of breaking down rape culture. However, we rarely talk about rape kits, STD’s from rape, pregnancies from rape, and other medical costs.

Whether or not a victim gets a rape kit is their decision alone. Of course it makes conviction of their abuser much easier. However, it can be extremely painful and triggering to get a rape kit done. They need to be done right after the assault, before you can even shower. As a victim, you still feel dirty and extremely raw and are expected by society to go into a hospital where you don’t know what the staff will be like (and if they will judge you or slut shame you) to get an intrustive medical exam.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating against rape kits. I’m just saying it is completely up to the survivor whether they choose to do so or not. And a survivor who chooses to not get a rape kit does not warrent your judgement.

5. What were you wearing?

This is my least favorite. The first partner I ever told about my rape asked me this question. Ifelt an incredible amount of shame after that.

It does not matter if someone is clothed head to toe or if they are naked and lying in bed. No one deserves to be raped. No one is ever asking for it. It’s really that simple.

This whole idea of trying to find a reason the person telling you they were raped is lying or are somehow at fault for what happened to them is the very core of rape culture.

6. Did you say “no” explicitly?

This question ties back to consent and how as a society we are taught that consent is assumed unless someone explicitly says “no”. In movies and TV shows we see couples making out and then the next thing you know they are having sex. There is no conversation about consent, about what each partner likes sexually, what is a yes and what is a no for them, ect.

Talking about sex is so important. However, it’s something we are not taught to do because somehow it’s seen as awkward. Which is ridiculous. If you’re going to bed with someone, don’t you want to know what they like and don’t like? Don’t you want to check in and make sure it’s what they really want? Consent is sexy, but it’s also manditory.

Assumed consent is not consent. Just because you didn’t scream no, doesn’t make what happened to you less valid. If you didn’t want to have sex and someone coerced you or forced you, then it was rape.

7. Have you had sex since it happened?

This is simply none of your business. Whether someone had consentual sex the next day after their assault or not until years after their assault, is none of your business.

Everyone heals in their own way, on their own time.

8. Did you fight or try to get away?

When you ask a survivor this questions what they hear is that you think their experience only counts as rape in your mind if they put up a fight.

There are many reasons someone may not fight or try to get away: safety, fear, mentally shutting down, hierarchical/power dynamics. If someone didn’t fight or try to get away, that does not invalidate their rape or mean they deserved what happened to them in any way. 

9. Why didn’t you report it?

There are so many layers to the reasons why someone might not report their rape. I remember after more and more women started coming out as survivors of rape by Bill Cosby so many people were asking this question.

Why didn’t they report it sooner? They must be lying to get their 15 minutes of fame. They are just trying to take down this nice, family man. 

It was appalling to me that people would believe one man over 50+ women. That is how strong of a hold rape culture has on our society.

A survivor may not report their rape because the perpetrator is a person in power and in many rape cases it’s the survivors word against the perpetrator, and it’s hard to believe you would win a case like that. A survivor may not report because they don’t want their family to know they were raped. Or because they are terrified of being publically shamed. Or they are afraid of loosing their job. Or they fear no one will believe them. Or they were threatened by the perpetrator. Or they went to the cops and they laughed and told them to leave (true story). Or they suffer from such severe PTSD, they cannot fathom having to tell the story over and over in front of a court room.

There are so many reasons a survivor may not report their rape. All of which are valid.

10. Were you drinking?

If rape was about how much someone drank, then sober people wouldn’t get raped. But they do.

Here are some examples of what you should say if someone opens up to you as a survivor of rape or sexual assault: 

How are you feeling?

Is there anything I can do?

What do you need?

I believe you.

Thank you for sharing this with me, I know how hard it must be to talk about.

You are more than your body.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Brooklyn, NY

Corinne Werder is, first and foremost, a queer anarchist and pleasure activist. Corinne's favorite things in the world include blogging about queer issues, discussing breaking the gender binary and teaching sex positivity to end rape culture. Always intrigued by the human story -- she would love to hear from you and you can find her on almost every social platform!

Corinne is a queer anarchist, pleasure activist, and sex educator based in Brooklyn, NY.

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