Tend and Befriend
This blog is meant for me only, but for the sake of randoms stumbling upon my garbage site, it’s necessary to post a trigger warning: sexual assault.
A little over a week ago, a good friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook:
“Can I talk to you about something?”
A text like that is as serious as it gets. That’s when you, as a friend and human being, need to clear off whatever you had in your schedule to be there for them. It is known.
Without getting into too much detail, she had been sexually assaulted by someone she knew and once considered a friend. They were at his place. He did not have consent. She said no, twice. He insisted until she panicked and conceded.
Nobody had ever come to me about something like this before. When she came to me (which must’ve taken so much courage and self-admittance), it had been two days since the incident. I let her talk and tell me as much as she wanted, prompting her with questions. I felt I had to tread so delicately because anything could trigger… well, anything, and I didn’t even know the whole picture. It was like Minesweeper on Difficult. Except no one wins.
At one point I felt I had exhausted her with questions and it was my turn to talk. Give advice??? Was I qualified? What if I gave her the wrong advice? What if she wasn’t emotionally ready? What if this isn’t what she wants to hear right now? What does she need to hear right now?
A million thoughts ran through my head while my thumbs held still above my phone keyboard. I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d already told her what all victims need to be reminded of: It wasn’t your fault. I realized quickly that all my suggestions were action-oriented. “You should do this…”, “make sure you…”, “talk to…”. But given that she had a panic attack, it was unlikely that she was emotionally ready for anything.
In an uncanny coincidence, the night before, I was spiffing up my place for a pre-drink and watching Meghan Tonjes’ video, detailing an assault from a married man whom she considered her friend. And again, it was uncanny because I don’t usually watch these kinds of videos before going out… Anyway, in it, she mentioned something very crucial: Humans have a well-known fight-or-flight response to stressful situations, but it’s lesser-known that humans, especially women, also have a tend-and-befriend response. They’ll stay behind, and attempt to de-escalate a situation by trying to befriend the attacker, and by doing so, they make themselves smaller, less threatening (not only to the attacker but also to themselves). By neutralizing the situation, they’ll do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, by trying to appease the attacker and coerce him into leaving peacefully.
I had no idea how key this info would be. My friend was having doubts about not properly denying consent – it was muddled in her head, but from an outsider’s view, I could see she didn’t give enough weight to her denying consent twice. Essentially, she was feeling guilty about the lack of clarity in whether or not she gave consent and misled him. Telling her about the tend-and-befriend concept normalized what she felt and clarified that this was not entirely her decision – she was manipulated into this.
Through sporadic texts and the bouncing “…”s on Messenger, I could see it click in her head. It made me so happy that (1) she knew she could safely come to me for something like this, without me judging. (2) I was able to help her feel better. I’d never been in a position to comfort or advise in a situation like this, but I guess there was a point to watching all those YouTube videos and Tumblr articles on sexual assault.
I noticed in my original post I had completely skipped over my reaction to her telling me. But it’s not that I wasn’t impacted emotionally – I am human. And I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me when she told me. It didn’t feel real – all I remember is thinking that the quiet of my room felt false, incorrect. Like I should’ve been hearing cries admonishing his actions, so my outrage would be validated. It was confusing. I don’t know.