It’s been a rough week in the news for survivors of sexual violence and harassment. Since the explosive stories about allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein broke in October, there’s been a seemingly nonstop wave of similar stories where powerful men in Hollywood are accused of rape, assault, harassment, and pedophilia. From actor Kevin Spacey, who was accused by actor Anthony Rapp of making sexual advances toward him when he was only 14 years old, to actor-comedian Louis C.K., who has been accused by several women of sexual harassment, viral stories about abuse have been non-stop.
Of course, there’s power in survivors speaking out, naming their abusers, and seeking justice. These stories shouldn’t have to remain a secret. But the tidal wave of headlines, tweets, and Facebook posts about sexual abuse will inevitably be very triggering for survivors of sexual violence. In a media landscape where it’s difficult to avoid the news or social media altogether, coping with all the stories can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Kristen Houser, the Chief Public Affairs Officer for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, tells Brit + Co that when survivors have psychological reactions to stories in the news, people around them will often undermine their experience, and ask things like, “Are you sure it was really that bad?” or “Wasn’t that a long time ago?” But Houser says that the psychological repercussions of sexual violence can come and go throughout a person’s life, and it’s important for people to take care of themselves when they arise. During this time, where there’s a lot of news on a daily basis about abuse, Houser says the most important thing is to go with your gut.
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, go with that. You don’t have to listen to anyone else,” she says.
Houser suggests that taking a brief social media hiatus may be helpful, so survivors don’t have to see quite so much of the news all the time. Instead, she recommends seeking out forms of entertainment where you have more control of the content: Streaming services like Netflix where you can pick what you watch, reading books, or spending time in the outdoors can be helpful.
For anyone whose reaction is disruptive to their daily life, manifesting in sleeplessness, nightmares, or difficulty working, Houser says it’s a good idea to seek professional help. Services like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) offer free online chat services, as well as a hotline. The Crisis Call Center provides the same services, also for free. It may also be useful to search for locally based services that are free of charge.
For anyone who is already feeling triggered by seeing social media posts and news stories about sexual violence, Dr. Kathryn Stamoulis, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in rape and sexual assault, says that “talking about the emotions and memories that these viral stories bring up can be very helpful.”
Talking to trusted friends or family members can sometimes be enough, but if not, Stamoulis echoes Houser’s advice, and says that a professional may be the most helpful resource. “Beyond just listening and giving support, a therapist helps by challenging irrational beliefs (such as “it was my fault”), providing tools to reduce intrusive thoughts,” she adds.
Stamoulis also says that some survivors find taking up activism to be very healing. She suggests that sending supplies to a women’s shelter or getting involved with an organization like RAINN may help some survivors cope.
And with all of the stories being shared both in the news and on social media, Stamoulis emphasizes that no survivor is obligated to share their story. “One’s past experience of abuse does not have to be defining,” she says, and if that means tuning out and taking a break, a survivor shouldn’t hesitate to do what they need to cope and heal.
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