It can feel relentless at the moment. Turn on the news or scroll through Twitter and there’s another story, another hashtag. It feels like everyone is talking about it, and everyone has an opinion on the latest accusation. Coping with the news and social media as a sexual assault survivor can be hard and confusing.
People coming forward to share their stories and shine a spotlight on something that we struggle to talk about in society is positive.
There are so many reasons why these conversations need to keep happening. They give a voice to people who might not feel able to speak themselves.
Each time someone speaks out it can help someone else feel that they are not alone, that it wasn’t just them. One voice can support another to speak their own words.
Each story causes thought. Or anger, or sadness. And encourages us to stand as a collective to say sexual violence isn’t ok and it needs to stop.
But as a survivor, the continual coverage and conversations of disbelief can take you to a place where you don’t want to go.
It can feel overwhelming and that there will be no end to the stories. You may find that anxiety increases, or that PTSD shows itself more.
The public disbelief and justifications for behaviour can confirm someone’s decision not to report, or add to feelings that they were in some way responsible for what happened to them.
So what can you do? How can you help yourself to walk that line between wanting to keep up to date and keeping yourself in a safe space?
We’ve gathered some ideas for coping with the news and social media as a sexual assault survivor:
Know it’s ok to need help, even if you’ve had counselling before
“I thought I was over it”. “I haven’t thought about what happened in years”. “I already went to therapy for that”. It doesn’t matter. We’re now living in a time where there are more and more public conversations about sexual violence and this may change your own responses. Hearing a story that echoes your own may hit you harder than another story, or simply being around the frequency may cause a build-up of emotions.
Recovering from trauma isn’t a simple process and it doesn’t go in a straight line. You can be going along just fine for weeks, months or even years and then suddenly things get rocky again. Don’t judge yourself. If you need help, ask for it. It’s ok.
Check in with yourself before, during and after
You may feel differently on different days. What was ok yesterday may not be today. So check in with yourself before you turn on the TV or pick up your phone. Keep an eye on your feelings, have an awareness of your thoughts and if it’s feeling uncomfortable then stop.
And keep that awareness afterwards too. Sometimes life is busy and we get distracted and don’t always notice our mood slipping, or anxiety increasing.
Set boundaries with the media
Take control over how and when you consume your news and social media.
Avoid certain channels if you know that their stance isn’t going to do you good. Mute words in your newsfeed and consider only accessing the news and social media at certain times of the day, or when you have support around you.
Though we live in a society where we’re online for huge chunks of our day, you can put limits on it and choose when it’s ok for you and when it’s not.
Don’t feel like you have to #MeToo, #WhenIWas or #WhyIDidntReport
There can be a massive sense of power and solidarity from sharing your story. For some people it’s exactly the right thing to do. The hashtags that spring up after fresh stories of sexual assault hit the headlines can be supportive and powerful, and can demonstrate exactly how many people are affected.
But there’s nothing to say that you have to share your story, and you do need to think about it properly before you share publically. If you’re sharing on social media and not everyone you know is aware of your own experiences then you may face questions, and unfortunately you do run the risk of encountering trolls who have nothing better to do with their time. Tread carefully and make a decision that’s right for you personally.
It’s ok to excuse yourself from conversations
And you can do it without opening up your own story if you don’t want to. Each fresh story in the news is often widely talked about. At your work, in the supermarket or in the pub; people like to express their opinions.
Changing the subject or physically leaving are both ok. You don’t need to explain yourself and you’re not under any obligation to stay in a situation that’s not good for you.