How to Interview a Rape Survivor

9 min readFeb 17, 2023

Feb 17, 2023 · 9 min read

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash.

Author’s note: this piece is a partial memoir of the work I do with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Despite the title, it is NOT intended as a guide to interviewing survivors of sexual trauma. Please be a professional in the field or consult with one, before enquiring after a person’s trauma experiences. Naturally, the article contains confronting and disturbing material throughout.

I was talking to a friend the other day, on the subject of passing casual judgement on other people without knowing much, or anything, about them. Unless you’re the kind of person who is truly driven to make snap judgements about complete strangers, me and my friend agreed that – as most reasonable people would – it’s generally best to know something of the backstory before ploughing in with your indignation and opinion of people and the predicaments they find themselves in.

I mention this because the person I was talking to then almost immediately launched into a jeremiad about the prisons being full of thugs, gangsters and drug addicts and what a mess society is etc and so on. Prissily informing him that some of my best friends are thugs, gangsters and drug addicts, I reminded him of the work I do with prisoners and rape survivors, and said in my experience prisoners tend not to reach for excuses about their crimes but instead have a generally realistic and resigned attitude to what they admit is their responsibility. ‘Play stupid games win stupid prizes’, as one of them said to me laconically. ‘I stole some cunt’s car and after a high-speed pursuit down Parramatta Road, the police arrested me and now I’m in jail for the next three years.’

‘You made some poor choices that night, admittedly,’ I concede.

‘Fucken oath I did. And that’s just the stuff that got put in front of the court. Hahaha.’

Moving swiftly on before the client manages to incriminate themselves with some ripe convict anecdote about what else might have happened that night, I note yet again how none of the people I interviewed say something like this: ‘I steal cars and traffick drugs because of what happened to me as a kid.’ For sure they understand that adult behaviour can be influenced by…