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This writeup is born from a couple of situations where close female friends have confided in me. I felt astonished as well as completely unprepared hence most of this information is from personal experience with some added input from conversations I've had with people who've spent time with rape survivors.

Please realise one thing - Rape is much more common than people realize, and it is quite likely that you already know someone who has been through it, even if they've never mentioned it, nor outwardly show any signs of trauma. Being able to deal with the matter in a capable and sensitive way is essential and so here are some things to keep in mind if someone tells you they've been raped:

Please Believe them. Only 3-4% of all reports of rape are false.1 The rape victim's biggest fear is that no one will believe them. Therefore, if someone tells you they've been raped, they probably were. The single most important thing you can do is:

Listen!

Don't ask stupid questions, lower your tone of voice. You have nothing to say right now, you must accept what they have to say and understand. It is critical that they know they are being heard, that you accept and you understand, and as mentioned before that you believe them. Even if you don't you must at the very least show willingness to believe. Do not underestimate how important these things are. Here are some ways to show the following:

Listening:

Close your book, switch off your tv / computer / playstation / hairdryer / -insert distraction here-, take the phone off the hook (if they're not on the phone, if they are, tell them you're switching off everything and they have your complete attention) turn around and face them. Make it perfectly clear in every way that they are now the most important thing in your mind.

PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THEM UNLESS THEY TOUCH YOU OR GIVE EXPLICIT PERMISSION FOR YOU TO TOUCH THEM (and even then just reassurance that you're there.).

Acceptance:

Maintain eye contact, blinking often. Nod at appropriate points as they tell you everything, and make clear that you are taking in everything they're saying. Do not argue with them, even if the facts don't fit together well - depending on the circumstances this person may have been raped recently, or even if it happened a long time ago they may have repressed, or protectively altered their memories unconsciously, these things don't matter. It happened, your job is not to 'solve the problem' it's to be there, and be a good friend, and confidante. Accept, they are doing something extremely difficult in sharing with you, and you are honoured with a level of trust that most human beings are never able to display. Don't betray that trust by falling into semantic analysis or trying to play detective. Assure them of your confidentiality. 2

Believe what they have to say, and remember, let them decide what to do. It is their life and their responsibility.

The person may cry, scream, or go silent. Remain calm, it will pass. Keep reassuring them, and making sure they feel safe.

Understanding:

It is not their fault. Rape is a crime, and they are the victim. Consequently do not say things like 'I understand' or 'it's OK'. You cannot understand, and things are definitely NOT OK. And they won't be okay for quite some time, saying that 'it's okay' might actually make things worse, and contribute to the "there must be something wrong with me because I still feel bad" feeling that a lot of people get in the aftermath. Rape robs people of a sense of control consequently there is a protective outrage which often triggers the confidante to make promises like they will never let the victim be hurt again or that they will ensure the offender is punished. Avoid this. You cannot do either of these things, and both you and the victim know this, no matter how much either of you would like to believe otherwise.

Some things to think about

  • Don't ask 'where did this happen' as this implies it was their fault for being there. 3
  • Don't confront the attacker or threaten to confront the attacker. This may put both of you at risk, and may make the victim feel responsible for you.
  • If it has happened recently (24 hrs to six months) give them the number of a rape/sexual assault crisis centre. These are in every major and minor city and town across the globe. They often are willing to send a staff member (almost always female) to come and see the victim. Let the victim decide whether to go or not, support them either way.
  • If a rape crisis centre isn't available then recommend that they go to a doctor. They usually have training on how to handle such situations sensitively, how to treat injuries sustained (make no mistake, rape is a violent crime), while preserving evidence. 4

And one more thing: - They did everything right. They survived the rape!

Tell them so.

Some helpful links:

UK and Ireland: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/
United States: http://www.rainn.org/index.html
Rape Crisis Centre List for Europe: http://www.rcne.com/RCCs_links.htm

1 This statistic comes from the following website -http://hadm.sph.sc.edu/students/kbelew/cumrcsa.htm
2 If you genuinely feel that you are being lied to, accept for now, and realize that the truth will reveal itself as time goes on. Rape victims are scarred and sincere, liars are just insincere. Time separates the two very effectively.
3 Thanks to LudditeAndroid for this advice which he got from his criminal justice degree.
4 Thanks to NotFabio for this piece of excellent, obvious advice that I missed. :).