Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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“How many years can some people exist
before they’re allowed to be free?”
~ Bob Dylan ~



You may be confused about what you wish to do at this point - and that's okay - take one step at a time. With the support you deserve along the way.
This page will look at common reasons why women remain with partners who have sexually assaulted them. What's below are suggestions only, with complexities that go far beyond one webpage! If you are frightened and still under threat, you may also want to look at this page too.

I said on the introduction page to this site that Aphrodite Wounded is very much for women who are remaining with the partners who raped them, as well as women in the process of leaving or who are out of the relationship. While I do not recommend that women who are still in danger stay, and I think that your safety deserves to come first, I am aware that some women do choose to remain, and not necessarily for bad reasons. They are your reasons, you know what is right for you, and you need justify yourself to nobody. What's important is that you are able to establish safety again, that you know you can still heal, and that even if you are remaining, you have the same right to support as any other survivor of rape.

Making the decision to remain can be lonely - there may be the fear that if you tell, you will be advised to leave.People may not understand that you still love your partner. Existing supports may be tailored towards women who are leaving (I know of a sexual assault service that won't see IPSV survivors who are still in the relationship - but I also know of others that will). Nobody has the right to tell you what to do. You may also feel that you will be betraying your partner by talking about sexual assault, but your need to talk isn't to hurt him, it's to heal you - and you deserve that. I do hope that this page helps you to feel supported.

People tend to have opinions about what they would do, but they are not living your life, you are.

  • They are unable to name what happened as rape because they have internalized the view that if a lover or husband forces sex on them, it's not rape: It may be that in your heart of hearts, you know better than that. Listen to that wisdom.
  • They are unwilling to name the rape because there are frightening implications in doing so: Some women think that if they name the rape, it means they "have to leave." All you have to do is what's right for you. It also isn't easy to brand somebody you love a "rapist." It doesn't matter what you call it, you still deserve support.
  • The woman sees the sexual violence as her fault i.e. she believes it happened because she is "frigid": Sexual assault is never your fault or responsibility. You have a right to be as sexual or not as you please.Some partners may rape using the excuse that you are "too sexual", for example mine said it was because I was a "slut.". But it is not about you. It is about him, and the way he thinks.
  • She genuinely loves her partner and hopes things will change: Hope is a beautiful thing, but it must be backed up by other signs of change. You have a right to at least this much.You are not wrong for loving either; this man may be much more to you than somebody who raped you. Even so, it is never okay for anybody to sexually assault you.
  • Traditional views of marriage and responsibility: Your vows are sacred to you - are his? You deserve to be loved and honoured; you didn't vow to have crimes committed against you.
  • The sexual violence co-exists with physical violence and she fears for her life: If this is you, please know that there are domestic violence advocates who take your fears seriously and can help you address life-threatening issues. This is something I feared too; I figured that what happened in the bedroom at least wouldn't kill me while the next beating might. I am free,, and I hope you will one day be so too.
  • Alternatively, he threatens her with loss of her children: This is a terrifying threat to a loving mother. Please see this page.
  • Her partner may have threatened to kill himself: It's terribly emotionally abusive to manipulate somebody in this way. It is also a common trick of abusers to make their partners feel responsible for their happiness - which you are not. If you have been sexually assaulted by him, can you envisage putting your needs first for a change?
  • Financial dependence; nowhere to go: If you have children, no money and no family willing to help, it must be incredibly difficult to envisage a future in freedom. Please, speak to a domestic violence advocate about the best options for you.
  • He is a terrific father or is a good partner in other ways: These qualities are the reasons you love him. They do not, however, cancel your right not to be raped, or to heal from sexual violence by him.
  • She is aware that there will be little validation for her experiences: Not everywhere. If you want to find validation for your experiences and feelings, why not start with speaking to other survivors, perhaps via a message-board, or a rape crisis worker. The fact that society has responded so poorly to partner rape doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you, just that change needs to be made.
  • She may have grown up with violence, and may see it as a "normal" way of being treated by somebody who professes love for her: This is all the more reason for you to find out that you do not deserve to be hurt. If this is you, I completely understand - you might like to read this page on which I talk about growing up abused and how it shaped my responses to partner rape.
  • Religious reasons: Your religion may have been a great comfort to you, and nobody should ever rubbish that. However, some communities of faith do put values such as saving marriages over women's safety, and they pressure women to remain. This means that they are not beast qualified to advise you, and are putting you art further risk. You might like to seek pastoral counseling with an emphasis on domestic violence training. Also, please see this wonderful site, by a Christian survivor friend of mine who is now safe. Women of other faiths may like to check these links out.
  • Some women or girls who have lost their virginity to rape by a partner may remain with him, or even marry him. Such a woman may believe that somebody having taken her virginity means she is "spoiled goods", and that she irrevocably belongs to him (1): Ideas about what is a "good" girl, virginity and ownership have been long entrenched in society. This needs to change. There is nothing wrong with equating sex with commitment, but not ownership, and not if that "sex" is in fact rape.
  • She doesn't see leaving as appropriate because her partner has taken full responsibility for his violence, has shown remorse and has changed his behaviour in ways that suggest future safety for her: These are the minimum requirements for establishing safety again. Honour what you know to be true and right about your relationship.
Important Links
Domestic Violence Hotlines
Checklist for Assessing Change in Men Who Abuse Women
Safety Plan for an explosive incident
Note: If you are staying and your partner is habitually violent, please think about what you might do or where you might go in the case of a crisis. Importantly, if he's still violent, there is no guarantee that you can avoid further harm if you stay. If you are still being hurt you have my deepest compassion. Regardless of what your partner's violence seems to say to you about yourself, you deserve much better. Perhaps you've come to believe that there's nothing you can do, or that you deserve the violence. Maybe you live with it as best you can, or you feel used to it. But it is never okay for anybody to hurt you. Never. Would you please consider calling a domestic violence hotline (go here) and taking somebody into your confidence? There is understanding and compassion out there for you. I encourage you toward freedom from pain.

If you are in current danger but do not feel able to leave at this point, you can still have a safety plan for violent incidents. Please see this page for safety planning during an explosive incident.

If the rape was "one off" you may be hoping that this is how it will stay. It is terrifying to consider whether it will happen again, and some women prefer not to think about it. However, "only one" incidence of violence matters and it holds hold ongoing safety issues - one rape is one rape too many, and decisions regarding the future are yours to make. If you are in a relationship, you have an absolute right to safety within it.

If the assault took place out of the blue with no other signs of violence - your sense of safety will have been called into question, to say nothing of the damage to your trust. While some women don't want to end the relationship, some do leave for a time until they feel it's safe to return. Reestablishing safety requires more than not being assaulted again. There are, of course, no guarantees (who can see into the future?) but possible indicators of safety might be:

  • Your partner has taken responsibility for the sexual violence - he does NOT attempt to blame you in any way (note:many perpetrators of violence aren't known for a willingness to take responsibility)
  • He allows you to speak about it without becoming defensive.
  • He no longer practices any former patterns of controlling, possessiveness, belittling or sexual coercion
  • He is prepared to undertake independent counselling if necessary
  • What your instincts tell you - you know best. Do you feel safer? You know him - do his actions seem genuine, and not just aimed at getting you to stay? ( It's true that some men make professions of apology and change solely for this reason only to harm their partners again). Remember that even though his apologies may be genuine - and there is no doubt that some abusers do feel genuine remorse - that remorse does not amount to doing the work that will change abusive patterns 2. You may like to read this chat transcript with Domestic Violence Expert Lundy Bancroft for indicators of whether abusers are changing or not.

Aphrodite Matsakis writes that a precondition for healing needs to be safety 3. It is hard to focus energy on healing if you are still under threat. Naturally, progress cannot be made if you are being continually retraumatized, or wondering if you will be raped again. So getting safe, or establishing safety if you're remaining, is most important. This of course will depend on your partner's willingness to take responsibility and back it up with action. Feeling safe again will take possibly a long time - how can you be expected to readily trust when that has been shattered? You need time to make sense of where you and your relationship stand now.

If you are staying, you may feel guilty for discussing the rape with somebody else because you don't want the man you love to be seen as some sort of monster. You want somebody who validates that the rape is wrong, but who nevertheless appreciates the different dimensions of your relationship and your feelings, right? And on the flipside of that, it also won't be helpful if somebody spends time telling you how wonderful he is and that you shouldn't let sexual abuse worry you. Whom do you think you could trust not to impose their views on you? Have you a good friend? I can assure you that many domestic violence advocates are guided by the rule of respect for different women's experiences. You will also not find judgment at my messageboard. These are but two possible resources. You are not healing to hurt him - you have been hurt.

You may or may not want to share your need to heal with your partner - but if he's taken responsibility truly, he should give you the space to heal. You can also seek counselling and not feel that you have to tell him what you discuss there. Please be aware that couples counselling is not a safe option with an abuser who isn't taking responsibility for the violence, and should only be attempted after an abuser has had individual counselling and all violence has stopped. Couples counselling often assumes a level playing field between the abuser and the abused. Please see this article for a more extensive view of the reasons couples counseling is not recommended in situations of violence.

Some women remain, but deal with the rape some time after it happens and find that they wish to leave. If you have buried the painful implications, addressing them will be difficult but you may also find it ultimately rewarding. Please have plenty of support.

Sometimes, it's the statements women hear from others that trap them further in unsafe situations. Have you heard, for example, that, if you divorce your husband, you will be sinning - even if you are under threat? That what has happened to you isn't real rape, and that you should work harder to make the relationship work? Have you been denied assistance? These things can be forms of secondary wounding and even worse, prolong the danger to you. Some people place saving relationships over safety, and your safety must always come first.
  1. Russell, Diana E.H., Rape in Marriage, Indiana University Press , USA, 1990
  2. Bancroft, L., Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group 2003.
  3. Matsakis, A, I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors, New Harbinger Publications Inc. California, 1992