It has been an especially rough few weeks in the news when it comes to the topic of sexual assault. Several women have come forward accusing Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh of sexual assault. There are the ignorant statements in response to this from other political leaders including President Trump (someone who has also been accused of sexual assault). Then, there are the sexual abuse cases involving priests. Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced for 3-10 years for sexual assault. This was the sentence for the criminal case involving one of the women who came forward. For survivors of sexual assault and all those impacted by (and dedicated to preventing) these crimes - loved ones of survivors, advocates, educators, professional supports, and more - it can be both overwhelming and triggering to follow these events in the news.
Some days, it feels like you can’t keep your eyes away from the headlines. Then, even though you know you probably shouldn’t, you scroll down to the comments. That’s when the blood really starts to boil (at least for me). There is so much misinformation and a general lack of information out there regarding sexual violence and the impact of trauma on an individual. There’s so much victim blaming and minimization of these crimes. Some survivors choose not to watch the news at all in effort to protect themselves from being triggered. Some survivors may not be able to take their eyes off it. Maybe it’s a way to desensitize. Maybe they’re trying to understand other people’s perspectives. Maybe because they are looking for the comments of support from advocates and other survivors. Maybe they are wanting to leave comments themselves. However you are reacting to these events, it is important to practice self care.
Tips for Self Care:
Utilize Your Supports. Reach out to friends and other survivors. Reach out to local agencies and hotlines. Talk to a therapist. Process your thoughts on these events and what it may be bringing up for you. Know you are not alone.
Try Not to Personalize Comments. This can be VERY hard. Survivors may have a part of themselves that self blames or may have people in their lives that made statements that were victim blaming or judgmental. When reading these comments it can fire up those negative thoughts. These people who are making ignorant comments do not know you. They do not know your story. They likely don’t even know facts on the stories they are commenting on. Breathe. Scream if it helps you. Write a response if it helps. See Tip 1 and talk to your support system.
Find Balance in Information You Take In. In addition to the various news outlets, try to follow organizations that provide support to survivors. These include RAINN, Victims Rights Law Center, YWCA, and local rape crisis centers. They are also posting statements and articles in support of survivors. They are sharing important educational information in efforts to make people better informed. People are commenting words of support and compassion. Take those statements in.
Sweat It Out. Physical exercise is one of the best forms of self care. It is especially important for survivors. It helps you to get connected to your body. It helps you to feel physically strong. It can help to clear your mind. Put on those sneakers and go for a run or take a class. You will notice a difference.
Find Creative Outlets. Many people benefit from expressing their thoughts and emotions through art work, journaling, and music. Maybe you create these works yourself or maybe you enjoy appreciating others creations. Find what inspires you.
Identify What You Need to Heal. Healing isn’t always linear. What you needed when you first began this journey may be different from what you need now. Some find healing through sharing their story, some through a new form of therapy, some by taking legal action (i.e. with criminal or civil charges), some become advocates or educators, and much much more. What do you need to do for yourself at this time? It’s ok to try something new. How you heal may be different from others and that is ok. Take care of you.
Know your limit. There may be a point when you can no longer take in the news. Maybe you need to take a break. Maybe you need to walk away completely.
Know Times Are Changing. The previous administration was committed to improving prevention education and decreasing sexual violence (Obama’s Title IX Guidance). There are college campuses that provide bystander intervention and trainings on consent. Military provides these trainings as well. Some schools are starting these important conversations for youth at younger ages. The #MeToo movement is strong. People are coming forward with their stories. People are passionate about preventing this violence from continuing, about bringing perpetrators to justice, and about supporting survivors.
This week I found myself getting to a place of curiosity about and calmness towards the people who are making ignorant comments about sexual violence (between the moments of blood boiling). I wonder what they may have experienced and what messages they have received about these types of crimes. I reminded myself that it has not been that long that we have been talking more openly about these crimes and providing prevention education. Many of these individuals making statements do not know how to define sexual assault, rape, or consent. They haven’t learned about bystander intervention. They do not know how trauma impacts an individual. A lack of knowledge doesn’t excuse their ignorant and insensitive remarks. It does help me understand their perspective a bit more (I don’t agree, but I get where they’re coming from more).
I wish someone would do a presentation for our elected officials so that they would have this information. The Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women comes to mind as a possible presenter because of the grant work I took part in on college campuses. Maybe then, politicians would have compassionate statements about those coming forward with their stories of sexual assault. Maybe then, they could make better informed decisions (for example, who has the values we want represented on the Supreme Court). If these elected officials could at least experience the trainings that are now mandated on many college campuses and by military branches they would likely learn a lot and their perspective could shift.
Who knows what headline we will see next and what statements will come from our political leaders. Times are changing, not as quickly as I would like, but they are changing. I encourage all survivors and people who care about this topic to take care of yourself. These stories in the news will keep coming. We all have an important role to play in how history is rewritten for survivors through our support, advocacy, and education. I have hope that things will get better. I hope that one day when I read an article about sexual assault accusations that the quotes from our leaders will consistently be a commitment to finding the truth and justice or a statement of compassion and in support of healing. A movement has started. #MeToo
If you have been impacted by sexual violence and need support call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in San Diego, call the Center for Community Solutions 888-385-4657.