I am a partner
You are starting a new relationship or you have learned after a period of time that your partner has experienced sexual misconduct. What can you do for them?
When your partner chooses to speak about their experience with you, try to listen and keep yourself from any type of judgement. It is a very sensitive and difficult topic, that often takes time to speak up about. Of course, you can always ask questions, but please try to be aware of the body language, emotions and feelings of your partner. You can often tell by non verbal communication that something is going on with your partner, in this case please make sure you go into the conversation in a calm and open minded manner. It is important to make sure that you and your partner are in a calm and safe environment when speaking about your partner’s experiences. Initiating a conversation right after a trigger or a situation of panic will only create an unpleasant environment which will make things worse for your partner.
Try to show as much understanding as possible by speaking about it calmly with your partner. Try to reiterate how whatever feelings your partner might have, they are okay and he/she is allowed to feel these feelings. You can ask your partner what he/she needs right now and whether it is okay for you to hug them as an expression of comfort and understanding.
Perhaps it feels strange to discuss boundaries, but this is very important. Not only if someone has gone through a traumatic sexual experience, but it is important in every relationship. Unwanted sexual behavior and crossing sexual boundaries can cause traumas. Sometimes, these traumas can be triggered by behavior or situations that might not have anything to do with sex or sexuality. Make sure both you and your partner are aware of each other’s boundaries and possible triggers. The word ‘no’ can sometimes be hard to express, so sometimes it can help to choose another, random word (for example ‘teacup’) whenever you are close to crossing the other’s boundaries.
Leaving the past behind
Even though it is very difficult, try to keep the perpetrator out of your relationship. Of course, there can be conversations about what happened and who the person is who did this your partner, and it is important to make space to speak about this. However, it is important to focus on the relationship between you and your partner. It might be difficult to accept, but you and your partner can unfortunately not change what happened. Of course, what you can do is support your partner in difficult conversations, therapy or if they are reporting the incident to the police.