For a survivor of assault or abuse, learning to trust people again- particularly in an intimate relationship – is a real challenge.
It doesn’t mean that survivors are weak.
It doesn’t mean that survivors are damaged.
It does mean that a committed partner of a survivor has the privilege and the responsibility to walk beside them in the healing process; to help rather than hinder their progress.
Sarah shares her own story (linked above):
As a survivor of sexual violence, I always found it challenging to “come out” to a potential love interest about my history. It never seemed to come up naturally in conversation on a date.
There is no right or wrong approach to telling a date that you are a survivor of sexual violence. It’s a completely personal decision, and you have to figure out what works for you. In college, one of my big motivations for sharing my story publicly at Take Back the Night was to share it with the entire universe of potential love interests all at once, so I didn’t have to tell it again and again every time I met someone new.
As the years went on, I experimented with many different tactics. Sometimes, I told people on the first date. Sometimes I told them BEFORE the first date. Sometimes I told them over coffee. Sometimes I told them after a second round of drinks. Sometimes, the relationship fizzled out before I had a chance to share my story at all.
On the one hand, I never felt like I wanted to hide my history of sexual violence from dates, just like I wouldn’t hide the death of a parent or a bad car accident. Being a survivor—and the resilience that goes along with it—is such a deep part of who I am. I knew I needed a partner with an appropriate level of spiritual depth, emotional intelligence, and empathy to join me on my lifelong journey of being a survivor. On the other hand, it was a personal story and one that I didn’t necessarily want to share in detail with someone unless I saw a future together.
Ultimately, I learned to open the door to my history a little bit at a time, in ways that tracked with the developing intimacy with the relationship. For example, I referred to “darker times,” or mentioned that I saw a therapist regularly. When I started volunteering at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center as a medical advocate and then as a survivor speaker, I found ways to drop volunteer experiences into the conversation. I found ways to start the conversation, and decided how deep I wanted to go based on the response.
As a survivor and as a human, I can only be the expert in my own experience. But throughout my decade of dating, I picked up a few pointers when it comes to encountering a survivor of sexual violence on a date.