Support for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners
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"...no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
~ Albert Camus ~


"IPSV"="Intimate Partner Sexual Violence"

Persephone by Dahlig
Persephone, raped and forced into marriage by Hades, reaches from darkness toward the light. Telling the right person can be a bit like that.

This page will explore reasons why women often don't tell about partner rape. If you wish you could confide in somebody but are afraid, this page will give you some tips which you may find helpful. You deserve support, and telling can be an important step in healing. When and if you do feel ready to tell, I hope that you will be able to do so in a way that does not open you to further abuse - either that of secondary wounding, or by an abuser who is angered that you told. Be as safe as possible.

Note: On the Secondary Wounding page, you'll also find a place to share helpful, unhelpful or ridiculous responses you have had when you have told about your experiences. If you would like to contribute to the responses section too, you can find it here.

Please know that if you want to tell, there are people who will believe you.



  • Fear of not being believed: There are many reasons women fear being disbelieved. For example, it may be that their partner is well-liked and respected in the community, or a woman has emotional problems and thinks people will brand her "crazy." There is no doubt that being disbelieved - either overtly, i.e. "You're a liar" or covertly, i.e. the person appears to accept what you're saying but then carries on as if nothing happened, can be tremendously hurtful when you've screwed up the courage to tell. It can be very damaging. But there is still reason to press ahead and tell, because there are people who will believe you. I'm going to suggest resources below. Please remember that if somebody doesn't believe you, that is down to their own ignorance or prejudices. While many people do share those prejudices about partner rape, not everybody does.
  • Their partner has threatened them: My partner threatened me with dire violence if I ever told. He did catch me once telling somebody about his physical violence, and he beat me very badly. So the threats may be realistic, because your partner may not want you to find people who will encourage you to leave or otherwise end his control over you. As well, some abusers are so arrogant that they simply don't like being called on their behaviour. This fear may also be experienced by a teenage girl whose boyfriend threatens to tell the whole world she's a "slut" and that he'll get his friends to say they've had sex with her too. If you are living under such fears, please look below for safe ways of telling. You do not deserve to live with the threat or the secrecy of rape.
  • They don't know if they have the right to call it rape: You may have internalized social ideas about what "real" rape is - i.e. only if it's a stranger", or perhaps if it was not physically violent you believe you can't say you were raped. Despite that many corners of society hold narrow views of rape which do not reflect many women's reality, not all do. You can find people who understand that rape is rape no matter who it is committed by, and that being badgered or pestered until you give in shows a similar callous disregard for you - submission is not consent.
  • They've kept it secret for so long they feel ashamed of raising it now: You may wonder how you can say you were raped so long after the fact, or when you didn't initially call it rape. I'd like you to think of all the reasons you didn't believe you could call it rape st the time - for example, you may not have known that because it was your partner it was rape. There may also have been myriad reasons you kept it secret then. These do not deny you the right name it, and to tell somebody now.
  • Fear that they will simply be told to leave him: Women have, indeed, had people say they should leave, or suggest that if they don't leave they were not raped, or that it wasn't serious. These are the wrong answers. You want somebody who listens to you, and encourages you to put your safety first without telling you what to do.
  • Fear that they will be told not to leave: People who do not take partner rape seriously may indeed offer the advice to tolerate it because he's a "good man" etc. Again, this is the wrong advice.
  • Fear that they will be blamed or ridiculed: Sometimes, if we are blaming or ridiculing ourselves, we believe that everybody else will do it too. However, it is a reasonable fear. It is a good idea to exercise caution when you begin telling. And there are people who will neither ridicule nor blame you.
  • Fear of violent or other undesirable intervention from others: If you are afraid your father will kill him, or somebody else will confront him and humiliate or further endanger you, you may need to pick people to tell who will accept that this is about you and what you need, rather than what they need to do.
  • Love for their partner: You may love your partner profoundly, and be heartsick that he could have done this to you. You may be frantically trying to erase the rape. It is very okay that you love him, but it is never okay for somebody to sexually assault you. You may feel incredibly lonely with this, and he may be such a good partner otherwise that you can't stand for him to be branded a "rapist.". You can find people who can hear about the sexual assault, your feelings about it, AND your love for your partner. It is understood by many people who deal with partner rape, that the sexual assault does not define the whole of a woman's partner. By the same token, nobody should ever imply that because he is otherwise a loving partner, what he did was okay.
  • Fear of betraying or hurting their partner: If your partner is otherwise very loving, a good father or many other good qualities, you may believe that you are betraying him by telling somebody he raped you. It is very okay to tell somebody you trust; it is not to hurt him, but because you have a right to heal.
  • Empathy for their partner: You may have a deep understanding and compassion for your problems your partner may have, that you believe contributed to his sexually abusive behaviour. Your compassion is really beautiful, but you do not deserve to suffer because somebody else has done so. Be sure that you are not accepting, or creating, excuses for his behaviour - as many women, myself included, have done. Empathising with his problems does not mean you shouldn't seek healing for yourself.
  • Fear of loss of relationships: For example, you may be very close to your mother-in-law, and fear losing her for telling somebody her son raped you. The fear of loss of close relationships is very valid. It is best, for now, that you find somebody to tell who will be an ally for you, and who is not likely to break your confidence. If the truth emerges in the ranks of family, you may need support to understand that hurtful responses are their responsibility, not yours. Of course that is easier said than done, but their feelings are a result of his behaviour.
  • They have told in the past and got a bad response: Please see this page about secondary wounding, or the negative responses people can give survivors.
  • Their self-esteem is so damaged they may feel unworthy of help: This was my problem exactly. I believed that I deserved what my partner did to me, and felt ridiculous for engaging help, as if I was seeking a sympathy I did not deserve. Needless to say, I now know this is nonsense. Compassion from others will be the beginnings of learning compassion for yourself. You do NOT deserve to be raped, ever.
  • Shame about the fact that there was consensual sex between episodes of rape, or that they didn't leave the first time: That you did not leave, or that you continued a sexual relationship after or between rape, does not mean that you were not raped. Women who want everything to be okay, frequently do continue sex with partners who, outside of an abusive context, approach them with affection. There are a million reasons you may not have left; you still deserve empathy and healing for having been raped.
  • Partner is a respected community member: You may feel that you will be besmirching this man, who may be a pillar of the church, work for charity etc. Few women have any desire to public ally pillory a partner. But this is not the same as seeking help for yourself. First, whom do you wish to know about it? You can find somebody you trust. And if the truth emerges, his behaviour has besmirched him.
  • Fear that telling will make it more "real" and the survivor fears the implications: It's certainly true that talking about the rape to somebody who validates that reality, may make it more real, and bring feelings and memories you've been holding down rushing to the surface. This might feel pretty terribly initially. But it is usually therapeutic. It happened to you, those feelings are there, and you deserve support as you process them. You may also fear that if you open up about it, you'll have to hate him, or have to leave. You only need to do what's right for you.
  • Fear of betrayal by the person whom they tell: If you believe that people will spread what you tell them, it is best to start with telling somebody who will treat you confidentially, such as a rape crisis or domestic violence worker.
  • Feeling like a "liar": You may or may not be surprised how often I hear this from partner rape survivors. They are ashamed and embarrassed about telling about the rape usually because of social myths that imply that what happened to them wasn't really rape. But the myths are lies, not the truth of what happened to you.
  • Fear of upsetting the listener: If this is a concern, you may wish to start by telling people who are trained to hear about rape and domestic violence without becoming upset. Sometimes, too, we feel that what happened is so gross and disgusting we want to "protect" the listener. When you have found somebody who seems like a reliable person to talk to, go at your own pace and disclose only what you feel comfortable with.
  • Fear of what people will think: You may be afraid of what people will think of you, your partner etc. But there are people out there who will not respect you or your truth any less. See below.
  • The survivor is a feminist/activist in women's issues and feels ashamed and hypocritical about what is happening in her home: I have known women who worked in rape crisis, domestic violence and/or counselling circles, who were/are enduring partner rape at the same time. They know for a fact that it was rape, and it is the area they work in that may cause them to feel particularly silenced. These women are presented with a particular dilemma and agony; what they recommend to clients is not what they are doing themselves. They are terrified of what would be thought of them if colleagues knew, or that they have no credibility anymore. This is a terribly lonely position to be in. Sister, if you honestly don't feel able to reach out to anybody you know, then please start with an anonymous hotline, which does not need to know the particulars of your life. Please remember also that this is YOUR situation - you are enduring the pain and emotional fallout, and it's hard to apply politics/intellectual knowledge, even if you know they're "correct." Neither, as you know, do they guarantee you won't be raped or suffer from similar effects/dilemmas to your clients. Please, when you feel ready, tell; see below for suggestions. That you have been raped or otherwise abused by your partner does not lessen your credibility; you are a survivor, struggling.
  • Pure shame: You may feel that because your partner did "dirty" things to you, it makes you dirty, or that it wouldn't have happened if you were a better partner. You may feel so humiliated by what he did, that you can't imagine sharing it with anybody. You don't want others to know you were treated in this manner lest they should think less of you. Sexual assault can never make you dirty; it is never your fault. If you talk about it to empathic, understanding people who will never judge you, you will begin to believe this yourself. Can I just tell you that I have had hundreds of women share terrible experiences with me, and although I feel outraged and saddened for them, not once have I ever thought any less of the woman? Indeed, I admire her courage and I am glad she survived.
  • Telling People:
    • Trust? Is there anybody in your life whom you believe you can trust? While we cannot always avoid ignorant or hurtful attitudes, it can be wise to be careful whom we trust to share with. You wouldn't take somebody into your confidence who holds erroneous and offensive beliefs about domestic violence, but sometimes it isn't that obvious. If you want to tell somebody and you're not sure how they'll respond, you might "test the waters" first. Mention a news article you saw about sexual violence and see what the response is. Staying safe isn't cowardice, it's good self-care which is a necessary part of healing.
    • Who is Safe? It's really best that the person you choose to tell is somebody who will not repeat it to your partner - or anybody else. This is especially true if you are in danger from a violent partner.
    • Hotlines: Domestic Violence and rape crisis lines may be a good start to telling. Please see this page.
    • Counselling: A good, trustworthy counsellor can be a very great ally in breaking the silence about partner rape. It is a good idea to ask the counsellor first what experience/understanding they have with women traumatized by domestic violence and sexual assault. Please read positive experiences with counsellors here. Also, see this page for looking for a counsellor.
  • Telling Online:
    • Write your story: As you can see by this site, many women have shared their stories on this site. You are most welcome to do so if you think it will be helpful to you; please go here to see how.
    • Online Survivor Support Forum: You may also like to join an online forum to share your story, where you'll get support from other survivors. PLEASE make sure it is safely moderated, understands partner rape, and that blaming or ignorant responses are not allowed (I have encountered women who had shocking things said to them online, and I have encountered women who experienced deep healing through support from their online community). I recommend Pandora's Aquarium, and you can see here what is offered to survivors of intimate partner sexual assault here. You must be over 16 to join, and if you are under 16, here is a page of resources for you. Telling online can be good because of anonymity, and can be an excellent start to breaking the silence, but ultimately, it is still important, I think, to find people with "skin on" that you can trust.
  • Tell the listener what you need from them: When you choose to tell somebody - whether online or offline - let them know what you need from them. For example, you might say, "I just need to be heard without advice" or "I want to know what you think" or "Be kind. This is hard for me."
  • What if you get a bad response? Many people, from the person next door up to counsellors and doctors, are not immune to ignorant and erroneous attitudes about partner rape. If you do get a negative response, please know that not everybody thinks that way, and please don't let their ignorance put you off finding somebody else to tell. Please see this page, it may help.