My Friend Was Raped:  Should She Press Charges?

Dear Liz,

I’ve been friends with a girl for four or five years and we are very close. She’s the type who has always been a bit anxious and nervous, which leads to serious insecurity. Around senior year of high school we became distant and only this past year did we rekindle our friendship. This month I learned that she was ‘date raped’ in high school. She was at a party with a lot of people from our school, and she got so drunk that she blacked out. Someone said they saw this boy drag her up the stairs, because she couldn’t walk, and nobody stopped them, and he took her outside and had sex with her. The only reason my friend found out was because he took a video and posted it on his snapchat story. She has no recollection of this event. I don’t know how many people she told at this time. But now, probably about three years later, she is still coming to terms with it. This month she broke down crying to me, my roommate, and her sister about it. We were all furious at how something like this could have happened. She wonders if she should press charges, but worries that if she does she will have to see the video. I know that you have a background in law so I am wondering if you know anything about the statute of limitations with rape.  What do you think a young lady should do in this situation?

Dear Friend,

I am so glad that you wrote in on behalf of your friend.  You are in a position to really help her begin the work to restore her life, and this is the most valuable gift one friend can give to another.

The most important step you can take right now is to press upon your friend the importance of connecting with a therapist.  No one can be expected to heal from such a trauma alone—she needs to be with a therapist who has expertise in the area of trauma healing, and I highly recommend she finds someone who is trained in EMDR—it is a very effective healing tool, but not all therapists are trained in it.  Visit this site with your friend:

Healing from trauma takes time, and especially if she does choose to press charges, she is likely to feel re-traumatized, and will need regular support.  If she is a college student, then she will have access to free counseling on her campus.  If she is not a student, she will be able to locate a therapist in her community.  Does she have health insurance?  If not, she can share this when she calls, and she can inquire about reduced rates for uninsured or lower income folks.  Also, some graduate schools offer reduced rate counseling as part of a program for the doctoral students to begin their practice.  There are options—encourage her to persevere.

I want to speak about her family as well—her parents in particular.  I imagine she didn’t tell them, but if at all possible, if she is close with either parent, I would encourage her to tell them.  Again, she needs all the support she can get, and parental love can be the most powerful of all, when it is available.  And if she does decide to press charges, it will be difficult to keep them from knowing, so speak with her about speaking with them.  As a mother myself, my heart would break if my child did not come to me with their suffering, and my sense is that most parents feel this way.

If your friend does decide to go forward and press charges, that door is still very much open.  Majority of states have statutes of limitations regarding rape and sexual assault, but the timeline you gave me will allow her to go forward.  In my home state of New Hampshire, for example, rape is felony and the victim has six years to initiate legal proceedings.  If she was a minor at the time of the rape, the window is usually greater.  For the laws in your state, visit the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) online.

You said the perpetrator posted the rape on his Snapchat story.  Is there any record of the post?  Are there several people who could attest to seeing the video?  If that video is accessible, secure it.  If she does decide to go forward, that video will prove to be invaluable.

Yes—your friend will have to view the video, and she will feel tremendous pain and humiliation—any person would.  But it’s so important that she is repeatedly reminded that she did NOTHING wrong—she is the victim of a crime, and any person who attempts to shame her has internalized the very worst of our culture:  that boys will be boys, and girls are responsible for the sexual assaults brought upon them.  For your own learning, you might like to read my most recent post, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wallets, which discusses rape culture and the epidemic of sexual violence against girls and women.

Any person who attempts to blame the victim is minimalizing the perpetrator’s actions; by not calling rape, rape, we are simultaneously giving permission to rape.

You took a truly meaningful first step on behalf of your friend—you asked for help.  The help you can bring to her is to encourage and assist her in locating a circle of support—sibling, mom, you, therapist, etc.  And if all those individuals hold that circle tenderly around her, she will begin to find the courage and the ability to heal, and she will be able to come to her own decision about whether or not to press charges.  She can’t do it alone, and thankfully, it seems she doesn’t have to, because of the friend she has in you.

I’m proud of you.

Love, Liz


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