How Men Can Support Women Post Sexual Abuse

couple

Two years ago his wife was kidnapped, stabbed, shot and sexually assaulted by nine men. Here’s the story, the mistakes he made in trying to help and the lessons he wants to put into the world for other men who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Note: Trigger Warning

I remember clearly one morning about two years ago, I was enjoying a quiet breakfast with my wife. It was a beautiful morning, after days of rain the sun was shining and I couldn’t help but think I was the luckiest man on earth. I was married to this incredible woman who was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. Like any other morning we rushed out the door to work. Little did I know our lives were about to change dramatically.

I returned home at the end of the day to find the house was empty. This was highly unusual as my wife always collected her two children (from her first marriage) from after-school care and would always be home by 4:30pm. Instantly I felt something wasn’t right, I contacted the child care program and discovered the children were still there. Quickly I went and picked them up, then I drove to my wife’s work thinking she must have had a car accident and I was hoping to find her on the way. When I reached the carpark she used every day I found her car. It was unlocked, her laptop on the passenger seat and her handbag was on the ground, yet she wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I felt ill, I knew that she had been receiving threatening and abusive messages from her ex-husband and in my heart I knew he was responsible for her disappearance.

“Then she said those words I had been so afraid of, she had been raped. I felt my heart break into a million pieces…”

I dropped the children off with my parents and went straight to the police station. They were anything but helpful. Evidently there was nothing they could do for 24-48 hours, they were more interested in whether we had an argument, whether there was any domestic violence at home and once it was established there wasn’t I was sent on my way and told: “She will come home, mate, women disappear all the time.” I knew my wife, they didn’t. I was angry they were not listening to me.

When my wife still hadn’t returned some 36 hours later the police agreed to look at her phone and emails then they came to the conclusion I had, she probably had been kidnapped by her ex. I was told to wait at home and stay by the phone while they tried to find where she had been taken.

Finally the following night the phone rang. It wasn’t the police, it was my wife calling reverse charges from a public pay phone. She sounded ghost-like, so quiet and lifeless. Then she said those words I had been so afraid of, she had been raped. I felt my heart break into a million pieces, I don’t remember much of that conversation but I do remember telling her it was not her fault and that we would get through this together. By using the ID number on the public phone the police and ambulance were able to get to my wife while I talked to her. As soon as they were there I hung up the phone and rushed to the hospital they said that she would be taken to.

When I arrived at the hospital I was met by two police detectives. They told me to sit and wait, my wife was in a bad way and the doctors were assessing her. I refused to accept this, I knew from my conversation with her that she was extremely traumatized and that she needed me by her side for support. I ignored the police and walked into the room my wife was in, what I saw when I walked in there will haunt me for the rest of my life.

“My attention then turned to my beautiful wife and I made my first of many mistakes. I tried to put my arms around her to comfort her…”

There in the middle of the room was my wife laying on the hospital bed crying hysterically, she was naked without even a sheet to maintain her dignity. Around the room there were close to ten police men just looking at her, taking photographs and talking. There was a senior doctor and his team of eight junior doctors as well as three nurses. No one was there for my wife, no one was talking to her, holding her hand or looking out for her interests. It was like she was a side show act, everyone was there to just look at her. It was at that moment I knew what my role was as her husband, it was to advocate for her and to protect her from further humiliation and abuse. I removed my jacket and used it to cover my wife and I told all the police and junior doctors to get the fuck out. I didn’t want anyone in that room unless they were specifically there to help my wife medically. My attention then turned to my beautiful wife and I made my first of many mistakes. I tried to put my arms around her to comfort her and that terrified her. I felt her freeze in my arms and saw fresh tears roll down her face. I had never felt so completely useless and out of my depth. I sat beside her and watched the doctor look over her extensive injuries. She was taken to surgery and put in a medically induced coma for two days to enable her to start to recover physically. I never left her side despite hospital staff telling me I should go home and rest, during this time the police were constantly pressuring the ICU staff and myself to bring her out of her coma so they could interview her. Again my role as her husband was to protect her and her physical recovery.

After two days she was brought out of her coma. Looking back on it I believe it was too soon. She had been shot in both ankles & her right shoulder, stabbed several times and had several broken ribs, she had also been brutally raped to the point she needed full vaginal and anal reconstruction. Yes physically she was a mess but ready to wake, however, emotionally she was not in any condition to face what had happened to her and the extent of her injuries. Once she was awake we were faced with new challenges mainly the police investigation and the detectives constantly interviewing her. My wife was physically weak and emotionally fragile but that did not factor into their treatment of her. The police brought in a support worker from the local Rape Crisis Centre to be there with my wife. This support worker and the police told me that it was not appropriate for me to sit in on these interviews. They made this assumption without asking my wife how she felt about it. I could see through the glass window that my wife was distressed so once more I pushed my way in and I asked my wife if SHE wanted me there for support. Surprise surprise she did!!

“You’re a man, you won’t be able to help her, the best thing you can do is keep quiet and keep your hands to yourself. Rape is women’s business not mens’. Men rape and women support women.”

As I sat there hearing her talk about what happened to her I felt so angry. I found out that it was her ex-husband that was responsible for what happened to her and he had eight of his friends with him. My wife had been shot, stabbed, beaten and raped countless times by these nine men. I wanted to find them and kill them for what they had done to her. I expressed these feelings and I was told to keep quiet and warned that if I showed any emotion again I would be made to leave.

After the police left I asked to speak with the support worker. I asked her specifically what I could do to support my wife and help her through this. She said to me “You’re a man, you won’t be able to help her, the best thing you can do is keep quiet and keep your hands to yourself. Rape is women’s business not mens’. Men rape and women support women.” I was gobsmacked. This woman without knowing me or my wife decided I wasn’t capable of supporting my wife because I was a male. What crap. I started to do some research and there was very little information written from the perspective of husbands. My wife was drifting further away from me emotionally it felt at times like she was frightened of me, I felt angry, helpless, confused and as much as I hated to admit it I felt alone. I started learning as much as I could about rape. I was surprised to discover it isn’t about sexual needs that really it’s about power and control with sex used as the weapon.

After a couple of weeks my wife was discharged from hospital. As I drove her home fear washed over me. I didn’t know how she was coping or how I would cope. We had a quiet family dinner that night with the children and my wife went to bed early, she was still very weak physically. Once the kids were asleep it suddenly dawned on me “where was I going to sleep?” I couldn’t just go and get into bed with my wife the way I use to, I was scared of upsetting her. So I got a blanket and pillow and slept on the floor next to our bed. That first night at home she woke screaming several times from nightmares, I didn’t know what to do so I sat on the bed and told her I was there for her. That seemed to calm her and she went back to sleep. The following day the kids went off to school as normal and I decided it was time for me to talk to my wife and ask her how she was feeling and what she needed from me at this time. What she said to me was exactly what I did and I want to share this with men everywhere as it helped the two of us so much.

She said that she was worried I didn’t love her anymore, that I blamed her for what happened, that I thought she was “damaged goods”,  she said that she felt I had shut myself off from her. She said she felt scared of me when I said I wanted to kill those who had done this to her. Calmly and gently I reassured her that I still loved her very much and that in no way did I think she was responsible for what happened. I asked her if there was anything that I had done to make her feel like damaged goods and in what way I had shut her out. My wife said to me that I never held her hand or cuddled her, it felt to her like I didn’t want to go near her. I was gutted, I wanted so much to be able to hold her in my arms but after that first time when she froze I figured she didn’t want me to. I told her this and she simply said to me “why didn’t you ask me?”.  We agreed that from that point on I would not withhold physical shows of support and affection however, I would always check with her first that it was ok. Was difficult to get use to but over time it became second nature. I would say to her “sweetheart I would like to give you a hug is that ok?” or “can I hold your hand?”. This helped my wife on so many levels, she knew I was there for her and I wanted to be close to her yet she was the one in full control. I showed her by those actions that I respected her and that what happened had not changed how I felt about her.

In many ways my wife and I were lucky which may sound strange given what she had been through. But we were. As you may have guessed my wife’s first marriage was very abusive and she found the strength to leave. It took her a long time to trust me in the early stages of our relationship and fortunately that trust was still there after she had been raped. That trust was key to not only her recovery but also the survival of our marriage.

“Over time we found that it was easier for my wife to talk at night, it was dark and she found security in being able to hide her face… These conversations were in her control and it was my job to listen…”

Over time she recovered physically, and in everyone’s eyes she recovered emotionally. She was back at work like nothing had happened and was very involved with the kid’s sports, etc. The only difference was sleeping arrangements but gradually that changed as well. I went from the floor of our bedroom to sleeping on top of the bedding so I was next to her but not actually in bed with her. Eventually she allowed me back in the bed with her. Nights were the worst for us, my wife had terrible nightmares. Over time we found that it was easier for my wife to talk at night, it was dark and she found security in being able to hide her face. I never pressured her in these conversations, I never asked her for details of what happened. These conversations were in her control and it was my job to listen and reassure her. She needed so much reassurance, I lost count of how many times I had to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that I loved her and that she was safe. We developed a nightly routine of walking around the house together checking every door and window was locked. This also gave her a feeling of security and safety.

Months passed and we found we were not thinking about it all the time, everything was back to normal accept for the fact we had no sex life at all. I hadn’t attempted to initiate sexual contact and it wasn’t something we talked about. Eventually I built up the courage to talk to my wife about it. I was careful to make sure she knew it was not an expectation and that she could take as much time as she needed. She admitted it was something she was scared to try again even though she wanted to. We agreed that at any time she could say no or stop and that I would immediately. During many of our initial attempts to be intimate my wife would have flashbacks or start crying without knowing why. But over time we found that it was easier for her if I gently and lovingly talked to her whilst we were making love. I would tell her over and over and over that I loved her. I always respected her decision to say no and never made her feel guilty for saying no if anything I tried to make it easy for her to say so.

I’m happy to say that now two years later my wife and I are closer than we ever were and that we have a wonderful marriage.

To any men out there who find themselves in the position I was in where their partners are raped I suggest the following things:

1. Most importantly believe her, never question her when she says she’s been assaulted.

2. Ensure she gets medical care immediately and offer to stay with her.

3. Although it’s a normal reaction to want to hurt those who hurt her keep that to yourself. She’s been violently assaulted and does not need to see you wanting to be violent.

4. Advocate for her. Keep non-essential people away in the initial crisis.

5. Understand the police are doing their job but make sure it’s not detrimental to your partner either.

6. Help her regain control. If she doesn’t want police involvement that’s her choice not yours.

7. Don’t withhold physical affection but give her the choice as to whether or not she wants it.

8. Reassure her constantly that you love her and that it is NOT her fault.

9. Never pressure her to resume sexual activity and when you do find ways to help her relax. Never take rejection personally and make it easy for her to say no.

10. Look after yourself and your stress levels. I found running and working out in the gym helpful.

11. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone you are comfortable with about everything. My father was my trusted friend and without him I don’t know what I would have done.

12. Communicate with your partner and do whatever you can to maintain her trust.

13. Learn and understand as much as you can about rape and it’s effects.

I hope that by sharing my story I can raise awareness on how men can help and that there is life after rape. Rape is a violent and senseless attack and it’s our responsibility as men to support all survivors and not tolerate it under any circumstance. No always means no and real men don’t rape.

There’s so much more I could write particularly around the court and justice system but this note is on supporting women and understanding how we can do that so the rest can wait for another piece.

 

Editor’s Note: Certain details have been omitted or slightly obscured to protect the survivor’s identity.

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–Photo: Adam Tinworth/Flickr

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Comments

  1. I hope this woman recovers fully and gets the justice she deserves. Rape is one of the most horrific crimes against humanity. My husband has been long time friends with a guy who was raped as a boy when he was about 14. When he summoned the courage to tell his wife (now ex-wife) about how he was raped as a boy, she started growing distant from him. She told him that he was not a “real man.” Not too long after that, she filed for divorce. She told friends that she was no longer in love with her husband and saw him as weak but in divorce court, the reason for the divorce was cited as “irreconcilable differences.” We were so horrified by rumors started by her that he was gay, as if that was a bad thing to begin with. He was so devastated by the divorce. He sees his kids every other weekend post-divorce. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for the support he received from friends including my hubby and I, he probably would have committed suicide. We had to force him to seek help and he was diagnosed with depression after the divorce. How can women support the men in their lives who have been raped and avoid passing judgment about male rape victims’ manhood or sexuality?

    • Anonymous says:

      This guys Ex wife is as bad as the perp whom hurt him in the first place- give him love lots of love. Tell him he isnt weak and that it wasnt his fault. Only thing i learnt after being held captive for 7 years and raped and abused every day of hell is that im no longer a victim im a survivor. I am me, i am loveable, im not broken, it wasnt my fault, im a good person, there is still goodness in the world. X stay strong those who have been through this “hell” you will be okay. You will transcend from victim to survivor dont let those perps destroy your whom life.

  2. Genevieve Stiles says:

    I hope this woman recovers fully and gets the justice she deserves. Rape is one of the most horrific crimes against humanity. My husband has been long time friends with a guy who was raped as a boy when he was about 14. When he summoned the courage to tell his wife (now ex-wife) about how he was raped as a boy, she started growing distant from him. She told him that he was not a “real man.” Not too long after that, she filed for divorce. She told friends that she was no longer in love with her husband and saw him as weak but in divorce court, the reason for the divorce was cited as “irreconcilable differences.” We were so horrified by rumors started by her that he was gay, as if that was a bad thing to begin with. He was so devastated by the divorce. He sees his kids every other weekend post-divorce. I firmly believe that if it wasn’t for the support he received from friends including my hubby and I, he probably would have committed suicide. We had to force him to seek help and he was diagnosed with depression after the divorce. How can women support the men in their lives who have been raped and avoid passing judgment about male rape victims’ manhood or sexuality?

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Genevieve – I hope your husband’s friend is getting the support he needs and deserves. I’m SO SAD to hear about what happened to him. I know too many men who’ve had similar experiences.

      MaleSurvivor.org and 1in6.org are amazing organizations. I hope he can find support.

  3. Uzi 4 short says:

    Firstly, an incredible and heartfelt article.

    Next, I totally hope that your wife is recovering well though.

    Please do write and tell us how you all are coping.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s powerful. And it’s heartening for me, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by multiple relatives, that I may yet find a man who’s heart and good intentions are truly for me. I never experienced anyone speaking up for me. I had to learn at a very young age to speak for myself and defend myself. There was no one standing with me or holding my hand. For this reason your statement, ” It was at that moment I knew what my role was as her husband, it was to advocate for her and to protect her from further humiliation and abuse. I removed my jacket and used it to cover my wife and I told all the police and junior doctors to get the fuck out.” is the most powerful piece of your story. You showed yourself to be FOR her – her supporter and defender. There are so few examples of men supporting their wives in any way. You are a blessing to your wife and you have blessed us by sharing your story. I pray you two continue to grow together and love together. And may you both continue to be all the other needs, when needed, throughout your marriage.

    PS – I hope her all violators are behind bars and far away from her with no hope of ever coming into contact with her again.

  5. Wow you are insightful on a subject I’m to familiar with. Please help if you can, repost if thats all the help you can offer, I’d really appreciate it. :)

    https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/3v34/cassie-s-reunite-with-her-kids-after-domestic-violence-fund

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