An Open Letter to Partners of Sexual Assault Victims

Subject: An Open Letter to Partners of Sexual Assault Victims
From: Luke J. Whitcomb
Date: 6 Dec 2015

When you first find out that your partner has been sexually assaulted, you’re not going to know how to respond. While you’re at first shocked, your shock may quickly turn to anger toward their abuser. Your job as their partner is to be supportive toward them, even if you’re not quite sure how to be.

Sexual assault is traumatizing for the victim. They may be triggered during sexual activities with you, they may even have flashbacks to their assault(s). As their partner now, you will realize that even though they’re in bed with you, they’re still partially in bed with their abuser. And they might continue to be for the rest of their life. You, as their supporter, may now feel as though you’re going to re-traumatize them. Not on purpose of course, but you might be a little scared of hurting them. Here are a few things that I’ve personally used to help my partner.

Help your partner feel comfortable in bed.
You need to create an environment where your partner feels safe. Make it explicitly clear to your partner that they can ALWAYS say “no”, “stop”, “I’m uncomfortable with this”, or any other statement when they’re not comfortable. When they say these things to you, you stop immediately. No matter what. This rule of the bedroom applies to EVERYONE.

Talk about what you’d both like before any sexual activity begins.
Listen to what your partner wants from you. Tell your partner what you would like from them. Do not engage in any activities that the two of you have not agreed upon beforehand. Don’t do something “in the moment”, as you never know if it will trigger your partner. Having open and frank discussions about sex will help your partner feel more in control of the situation.

Don’t make each other feel like you owe one another sexual favors.
Be honest with one another in the bedroom. As important as it is for you to let your partner tell you what feels good and how they want to be touched, it’s also important that you communicate those things to your partner. Create a comfortable and non-judgemental space in the bedroom.

Obtain clear and enthusiastic consent.
Do not ever make your partner feel like they HAVE to consent to you. If they consent to you simply because they’re afraid of repercussions if they don’t, you’re abusing them. Your partner does not owe you sex. It’s always important that you get clear and enthusiastic consent before any sexual activities begin no matter what. And as the partner of someone that has been sexually assaulted, checking in with them more often may make them feel more comfortable, at ease, and make them feel safe.

Comfort your partner if they become triggered during sexual activities with you.
Be aware of your partner. It’s also your job to notice if there is something wrong. Sometimes your partner may not be able to voice to you that they need you to stop what you’re doing. (Ex: If in the past they’ve been boisterous during an activity and now they’re not, stop.) Ask them if they’re okay and what they need from you. Assure them that you’re not going to hurt them and that no more activities are going to happen until they say so. If they tell you something that they need you to do to comfort them, do it. Be there for them and reassure them that everything is okay.

Do not become upset with your partner if they ask you to stop.
Your partner needs to come first. Even if you’re really invested into the activity, if your partner needs you to stop, you need to stop. Don’t get upset with them for this. They’ve been violated and hurt by someone else and their minds sometimes bring them back to that time. It’s not your fault. They know that you’re not their abuser, and they’ll probably be upset with themselves for not being able to stop their thoughts. Remember that it is your responsibility to protect them from further traumatization while they’re with you. Do not be upset with them.

You can’t change your partner’s past, but you can help them heal while they’re in a relationship with you. It’s important for you to let your partner know that you’re a support system for them not only in the bedroom, but outside of the bedroom. Respect them when they need you to stop. Be aware of their reactions. Communicate all activities with them before, during, and after. Comfort them, reassure them, love them. It’s not their fault that they were sexually assaulted and if they need you to stop an activity, you can’t hold it against them ever. Finally, always remember to make them feel safe. You’re responsible for not hurting them again. Don’t become another abuser.