In her memoir, Ruined (Tyndale), Ruth Everhart bravely displays what it means to own your story—even when it’s a hard one to tell. As a guest blogger, she offers advice to those who have experienced sexual trauma. You’re invited to weigh in on the comment section below as a chance to enter to win a copy of her latest book, Ruined).
I hope you never need this advice. I hope you never experience sexual trauma. But in all likelihood, you, or someone you love, will. The fact is that women aged 18-24 are at high risk for sexual assault.
What should you do if it happens to someone you know?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGMENT
Let her know you’re ready to listen whenever she’s ready to talk. Look her in the eye. If she cannot manage eye contact, perhaps she needs to be self-protective. That’s okay. Give her time. Try again in an hour, or a day.
Give her openings to tell her story. Clearly communicate that you are available to listen, whenever, without pressure. Do not press for details in a voyeuristic way.
Listen without judgment or blame. It’s not your job to judge her story, only to hear it. If you don’t know the difference between listening and judging, you probably don’t belong in college. Self-monitor!
If you must ask questions, be very careful. Many questions imply wrongdoing. “What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” Don’t ask those questions. In time every important fact will surface.
Hearing your friend’s story may trigger memories of your own stories. If so, make plans to find yourself a therapist. But for now, set your own stories and feelings aside and just listen.
Do not tell a third party what your friend has told you in confidence. Honor her words and her story.
2. COMMUNICATE CARE FOR HER BODY
Give her a gift certificate for a massage, or go along to the day spa. Everyone needs healthy touch, and a massage or other bodywork can be a healing form of touch.
If money is tight, can you manage an at-home pedicure with a basin of warm soapy water? Massage her feet with a little lotion. Paint her toenails. Communicate that she is safe and you cherish her.
If she needs to buy something that’s sold in an “Intimates” department, offer to go shopping with her. Remember that buying these items is not about looking sexy, it’s about feeling good in your own skin.
Encourage her to get enough sleep. Find out if she is sleeping well. Does she need help getting a prescription for a sleep aid for the time being? Help her to get what she needs.
Encourage her to eat good food. As tempting as it is to binge on junk for comfort, be the friend who suggests a smoothie, or a really delicious salad or bowl of soup. Communicate that you care about her physical health.
3. THINK NEXT STEPS: SAFETY & JUSTICE
Ask your friend whether she feels safe. Are her living areas safe? Talk to the campus safety services or local law enforcement, whatever is appropriate. Be ready to stand up for her.
Pray for your friend and her wellbeing. You can do this without telling her about it. It is between you and the Lord.
Suggest that she pursue justice. If she is hesitant or fearful, remind her that you will be beside her every step of the way. Then honor your word and be there!
Any sexual assault survivor needs to have a true friend!
Sometimes a person’s good friends disappear in times of need. Don’t be afraid to step up to a woman you don’t know well, and offer to walk alongside her. You may be surprised to discover how alone she feels.
If it happens to you—remember that all these words of advice apply to every victim—even you. Be gentle with yourself. Tell what happened. Seek shelter and nurture. Stay safe. Pursue justice.
Ruth Everhart is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor who has been serving the church for more than twenty-five years. A frequent speaker and blogger, Ruth and her husband currently live in the Washington D.C. area. Her memoir, Ruined (Tyndale), releases on August 2. For more from Ruth, please visit her website RuthEverhart.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
“It happened on a Sunday night, even though I’d been a good girl and gone to church that morning.”
One brisk November evening during her senior year at a small Midwestern Christian college, two armed intruders broke into the house Ruth Everhart shared with her roommates, held all five girls hostage, and took turns raping them at gunpoint. Reeling with fear, insecurity, and guilt, Ruth believed she was ruined, both physically and in the eyes of God.
In the days and weeks that followed, Ruth struggled to come to grips with not only what happened that night but why. The same questions raced through her mind in an unrelenting loop―questions that would continue to haunt her for years to come:
Why me? Where was God? Why did God allow this to happen? What am I being punished for?
Told with candor and unflinching honesty, Ruined is an extraordinary emotional and spiritual journey that begins with an unspeakable act of violence but ends with tremendous healing and profound spiritual insights about faith, forgiveness, and the will of God.