when the status quo frustrates.

Helping friends

Let’s hypothetically pretend that Ted’s friend Sally was raped in the last month by Sluggo, a man in an authority position over her at her job. To make matters worse, every sign indicates that Sluggo has worked out his own rape “system”, has raped others before, and will almost certainly rape again. In this scenario, Sally doesn’t report the man in any way to the police or to anyone at her job. Instead, she quietly puts in notice at her work, and quits there as soon as she can. So, Ted’s reaction to learning this is to want to tell her all sorts of things that he thinks she do– file a police report, sue the man, report him to her company and sue them if they’re unresponsive, etc, etc. But of course, she’s already the victim here. Ted knows he can’t very well tell her that she should do anything, not when it comes to anything that might even have the chance of making her life even more uncomfortable than she’s already feeling.

Is Ted being a good friend if he tells her all these difficult things that he thinks she should do? After all, it just really, really burns him that Sally’s having insult added to injury by leaving her job, AND that this shitty asswipe Sluggo is going to rape other women, too. And (it seems to Ted) that both situations could be preventible — but only if Sally took certain actions.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how Ted might encourage Sally to try to do something proactive about the rape (though maybe putting herself through more grief in the process), without becoming a complete dick himself? Or is that impossible? Maybe the best thing for Ted to do would be to stay mute about all of those unasked-for opinions of his, and simply offer emotional support in a positive way whenever/however it’s asked for. To remain as utterly non-judgmental of Sally as he could possibly manage.


17 Responses to “Helping friends”

  1. Quin says:

    By the way, Sally, Ted, and Sluggo may not be entirely imaginary characters.

  2. Aaron says:

    Is Ted being a good friend if he tells her all these difficult things that he thinks she should do?

    Not by my lights; Ted’ll do much better, I think, to be there for Sally in whatever way he can. It’s possible that ‘whatever way he can’ may eventually include any or all of those ways Ted’s already got in mind, but he’s right to think it’s her decision to make and not his place to try to push her one way or another.

    To whatever extent she may not be entirely hypothetical, I hope Sally’s recovery goes well; as for Sluggo, I hope his balls rot off.

  3. Stacy says:

    “Without being a complete dick” is of course in the eye of the beholder, and only someone who knows Sally can say what the parameters are for her. I’d say Ted is keeping his priorities straight as long as he remembers to be more interested in Sally’s well-being, than in her participation in getting Sluggo.

    He might, though, encourage her to think about Sluggo’s prior victims, and how much she’d have appreciated if they had shown some fortitude instead of just quietly going off to lick their wounds.

  4. Astarte says:

    I’m speaking from personal experience here – having been raped myself while in college. I’m looking at this from both positions – Sallys – and the women and/or girls who are going to end up being raped if she doesn’t do something.

    Mentally, Sally might be extremely reluctant to discuss what happened. I don’t know what country Sally lives in, but here in the US – it’s the rape victim who is put on trial, not her rapist. So, if she had a less than sterling past, I can understand her reluctance to report it, because she knows that every single thing she did going back ten years will be hurled in her face.

    But – having been raped herself – she knows the absolute hell it is. She knows what it is to feel filthy 24 hrs. a day, to know that no matter how many showers she takes, even if she scrubs her skin raw, she can still feel him inside her, on her.

    She knows the shame, the humiliation, what it is to lose every bit of confidence and pride in herself, to wake up crying from nightmares, or suffering from insomnia, jumping at shadows, and having to tell a partner / spouse she loves that she can’t even stand having them touch her, that she doesn’t even want to them to see her naked.

    If I were Ted, I would stress that I can’t know what she’s going through because, unless some guy bent him over a table and raped his ass, there’s no way any man can know what it feels like. I don’t know about other women or girls who were raped, but the few times a man tried to commiserate with me by saying he sensed how I felt, I became so angry I would just scream at him, because I felt like it was patronizing, like he was talking down to a child – and I would feel the need to remind him that it had never happened to him.

    But after Ted stresses that, he can grieve for her, try to be there for her, he can tell her that, I would say he also needs to make one point to Sally. Don’t say “I know you are feeling…” because the man doesn’t. But he can say “I can see your angry, I can see that you are exhausted, afraid…etc.” but if Sally’s rapist had done this before, Ted should point out to her – Yes, this asshole raped you, but all of the other women / girls, all the times he did it before – this happened to you because none of them had the courage to say something.

    Ted can stress to her that she does have that character, that she is a survivor. That those other women/ girls failed themselved, and every other female out there because they didn’t report it. He can point out to her that she has the power to stop it. Nobody was there to save her, but she has to power to save all of the other women and girls who might be future victims of this SOB.

    Ted can ask her that, very gently, if she would want some other woman or girl to go through the hell that she has. If Sally is hesitant, reminds Ted that she never went to a hospital to be treated, that she waited so long to report it to the police, etc. – Ted could say that he understands her hesitation then, because she might be feeling that she made a major mistake by at least not going to the hospital.

    But, if she does report him, once that news becomes public, the he has been fingered as a rapist – it might give his other victims courage to step forward and say – He did it to me too. By reporting him, Sally can regain some control over her life, the hand that has been dealt her. She can regain some of the confidence and pride in herself because, if this bastard is stopped, put away, she can say that she helped do it, she helped destroy him in a sense.

    And she will also be a hero, granted almost certainly an anonymous one, to every woman and girl who comes after her. That is a gift she can give herself, and every woman and girl. She can be his worst nightmare simply by speaking out, speaking the truth.

  5. Red Queen says:

    Having been Sally-ish in the past, she’s all ready gone through the list of things she could possibly do in her head. If she’s not doing them it’s because it would cost her too much.

    That said, there are things Ted can do. Whenever Sluggo’s name comes up in conversation Ted can point out (without revealing names) that he knows for a fact Sluggo is a rapey mcraperson. Ted’s being a dude gives that statement credence to the other dudes in the room who might want to be all “Sluggo’s a nice guy” and warns women to stay away from him.

    Someone did that for me, and I can’t tell you how much it meant when someone I barely knew heard my rapist’s name come up in convo and said “Oh I heard that guy is a seriously rapey douchebag”

  6. Jack says:


    In a work environment, with Sluggo as the boss, isn’t Ted just asking for Sluggo to remove him from the job, and with grounds to do so?

    Isn’t he also opening himself up to legal action, since he’s making slanderous accusations, so long as he has no material proof of Sluggo’s sexual assault?

    I’m not saying Ted should do nothing – but using the opportunity of conversation to “malign” Sluggo without proof may have a host of unintended consequences for Ted, and later for Sally.

  7. ethan says:

    God. Awful. For what it’s worth, I’m with both Aaron and Red Queen on the advice front.

    I hope all goes as well as it possibly could from this point.

  8. Quin says:

    Thanks for your comments. Red Queen, I couldn’t agree more. This issue of how men can best go about supporting women by speaking up has been on mind lately, probably due to the discussion I read here. I might write a bit on it soon.

    Thinking about it, it seems to me that Ted’s desire for Sally to go after Sluggo is a form of selfishness and petty control. He sees Sluggo, and thinks, “Sluggo is bad and must be dealt with”. Which is fine, I guess, as far as it goes, except that then when it comes to actually dealing with Sluggo, the only “tool” he can think of that would be effective is Sally herself. Which is really only a hop skip and a jump away from thinking of Sally in the same kind of way that Sluggo did– by which I mean, as a means to an end, rather than as a person who should be valued for her own sake.

    Luckily for Sally, I’m pretty sure Ted hasn’t said anything too stupid to her yet (at least about this kind of stuff).

  9. DaveP says:

    Ted should indicate that he believes Sally should go after Sluggo in a respectful way, and then shut up and leave it so he can provide whatever support Sally requires.

    It’s very easy to have a righteous fury over something done to another person without REALLY understanding what that person has gone through. It is a very male-gender thing to want to stand up for a helpless woman and take action against evil doers, and it is also a very problematic viewpoint. Revenge is not a good motivation to do anything.

    That said, if Sluggo is going to be raping other women, there are people other than Sally to consider. That complicates things, and I don’t think there’s a good answer.

  10. Scheherezade says:

    Came late to this from Harriet at Fugitivus, just so you know, and can’t not say something here.

    Again, as someone who has been in a similar though not identical position as Sally, the most helpful response was this: “I know you must have thought about going to the police [etc], and I know there are lots of really good reasons why you might not want to to. I’m just here to tell you that whatever you choose, I will support you completely. If you do decide to report/sue, I will be with you every step of the way. And if you don’t, I will respect that absolutely, and still be there completely.”

    Some women don’t report because they think that they won’t have a support network. That isn’t the only reason, but I think it’s great to let them know that they might have more support than they think. (And I didn’t ever report, even after that was said to me, so I don’t think its pressurising)

  11. Scheherezade says:

    Oh, and I second the shutting up about it after the initial conversation, unless she raises it. Which is not impossible, if she knows Sluggo is likely to rape again.

    And best wishes of recovery to Sally.

  12. Carabas says:

    I think the best thing that Ted could probably do is just be there for her. Offer ways in which he could help, but under no circumstances, (besides risk of harm), take action without Sally’s consent. One of the quickest ways to lose a good friend is to think you know what’s best for them, and act on something without their knowledge. Let her know that he’ll do anything he can to help, but the decisions have to come through her.

  13. Michael says:

    My wife and I have conflicts about this sort of thing all the time. I approach things from a solving perspective- how can I help? I can FIX. Here’s seventeen things that I can do that will fix.

    It’s tremendously hard for me to listen without trying to fix.

    Ted should, if asked, provide and help evaluate/talk through potential remedies, then help execute whatever one Sally wants to pursue.

    If he’s not asked, he should bite down hard on his tongue and be supportive.

    Then go slash Sluggo’s tires.

  14. ACW says:

    Sally probably just wants time and space to heal, but would benefit from a support group. She needs to talk to other women who have similar experiences. I had no one.

    Having been in a parallel situation to Sally’s (as a minor), and having been forced into prosecuting, I can say that –at the time– the legal process was just awful.
    If the incident were, say, a papercut, then talking to law enforcement officers was like having a room of people crowd around and grab your finger to see if it really was a papercut, going through the medical exam was like rubbing dirt in the papercut, and then going to trial was like having two men argue whether you deserved a band-aid because it’s possible the papercut was your own damn fault. The whole time, your injury gets worse instead of better and you regret ever having said anything. Everyone involved in the process gets to go home at night and forget about your papercut, but it’s there with you, 24/7, burning-aching-wrenching.

    In retrospect, I would have healed more quickly if I hadn’t reported and pressed charges, but I do feel better that something finally went on record. It was only afterward that I learned I was not the first he had assaulted, but the first to report it. If the girls before me had spoken up, my case would not have been dismissed. Less than a year later, he assaulted another girl and did get put away.

    Let Sally know –once and only once– that you strongly feel she should X, Y, Z, and then tell her that you are there to support whatever decision she makes… and mean it.

  15. Quin says:

    I’m sorry I’m getting back to this late– I didn’t realize the comments were backing up like this. My old hard drive crashed, and since this site seemed like it was on hiatus anyway, I hadn’t even checked this place in what– three weeks? Anyway, thank you everyone, so much, for your perspectives. It’s really been good to read, and helpful.

  16. DPirate says:

    Sally has no character. Forget Sally – she’s a selfish weakling. Ted should report the crime on his own if Sally cannot quit moping around and be a good citizen. Too bad Ted is a pansy-assed nancyboy that just wants to comfort poor Sally and share in the misery and injustice, which is soon to be visited on other women.

    That’s my take on the situation.

  17. skeptifem says:

    Ted needs to encourage Sally to think about future women who will be raped by Sluggo. Reporting a rape does not have to lead to pressing charges, but it can at least be on the record for the future. Sluggo can explain away individual complaints but not a pattern of behavior that emerges after multiple reports. Other women may have reported this guy before, or not. Either way, the next woman may want a shot at justice, and Sally has a moral obligation to protect other women to the small extent that reporting it would accomplish. Sally needs to know that she acted completely normally in response to the rape though, she isn’t being a jerk and the hopelessness and shock of a recent rape make it difficult to see the big picture of how her rape exists in society.

    Ted needs to warn other women in the office- he does not need to say that sally was raped by sluggo, just that sluggo raped someone he knows and that they should be careful around him. Ted may even discover another worker who was raped by sluggo who sally can talk to and plan with. Ted also needs to report this to HR if the company is big enough to have an HR department. They will have it on file permanently and it will make it harder for him to rape someone at his work again, and if he rapes someone in his personal life then the HR report can be used as evidence. Sluggo will also learn that other people care about rape and find it unacceptable, that just making the victims go away won’t make the act consequence free.

    Sally is also protecting herself for the future- she may change her mind and want to do something legally about the rape at a later time in her life, and not reporting the rape will make it impossible to do anything about it later (though reporting it will not make it impossible to remain inactive legally). Rape victims go through stages where they feel different things about the rape.

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