Although this article has been written in the second person, it is a true story. It is the story of a young woman (who is now a freshman in college) who when she was a senior in high school, had to endure what she described as torture knowing that a boy in her clique had raped one of her best friends. This is their story.
In thousands of high schools across the country, there is a girl whose close friend was sexually assaulted by a mutual acquaintance. Someone on the same sports team, school publication, or honor roll. The impact of rape within a social group can be severe, especially if the survivor of sexual assault chooses to share her story with only one individual. If the survivor chooses not to report the rape to a counselor, police office, coach, or parent, it is imperative that the other members of her social group respect that choice and protect her privacy.
The reality is that once you have the knowledge that you know a rapist, you will see your friend’s attacker each day on campus, and you will be largely unable to change your daily interactions with the attacker. While you may be able to find a reasonable excuse to cut ties with your friend’s rapist, you may have to maintain the same friendly, easy-going interactions that were typical of your relationship simply to protect your friend’s privacy. It can be incredibly stressful to sit in the same room with someone you know beyond all doubt committed the sexual assault of one of your closest friends, and be unable to act in any way. If she chooses to share her story with other friends, it will become easier to interact with the rapist, because the overall climate of your social group will likely change. Rather than being one of two people who knew but could do nothing, you and your close friend will be surrounded by people with the same knowledge and no desire to continue a relationship with the attacker.
It’s completely natural to be angry – livid even – after someone you trust assaults one of your friends. This does not mean just being angry at him: often, you will be angry with yourself and those around you for failing to realize the kind of person that he really was. Not only that, people often begin to question whether or not they can trust other of the members of the group. Did the guys know? Had they known all along what type of man he was, and simply neglected to say anything? Or, even worse, had they encouraged him in some way? It can be tough to rebuild your faith in a group of people if you are unsure of their involvement.
If someone in your social circle is victimized by another friend, it can be extremely difficult to adjust your conception of your social group to this new reality. You have to keep in mind that no matter how differently you feel about the others in your social group (whether they’re aware of events or not), your response to the situation is largely limited based on what your friend – the survivor – wants to do. If she chooses not to report the rape, you have to be extremely careful about the way you act around others in your friend group, so that you don’t accidentally reveal private information.
Often, when you come into the knowledge that someone you know is a rapist, you think that it can’t possibly be true. He’s so nice, and charming, and funny! Whether that’s true or not, that charming guy is completely capable of committing a rape. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a misunderstanding or a joke in poor taste: no matter how he portrays himself when he’s interacting with you, he has raped someone you care about. Nothing else that he does can (or should) excuse this behavior – especially if he has received no counseling or treatment. You should do everything that you can to remove yourself from his social circle, and you should do it unapologetically. Whether those around you make the same choices or are ignorant of his past, you have no obligation to look beyond something as horrendous as a rapist who smiles at you at lunch every day.
Dealing With the Guilt
No matter what others in your social circle might say – and certainly, some of them may attempt to blame you for not predicting his behavior – you didn’t cause the rape. A lot of things change after a rape, especially in a close social group. The uncertainty, tension, and even fear that can permeate the group is not your fault; it is his. Victims often blame themselves for their attacks, and sometimes those close to them assume that blame as well. Talking to someone you trust, whether it be your parents, a teacher, counselor, or close friend, is an important step to take in terms of being able to move forward, and hopefully moving past the attack.