CN: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse.
Like many of my friends I am glad that many serial abusers and harassers, in a range of powerful positions, are being named and actually facing real consequences these days. I want those who perpetrate these crimes to suffer consequences for their action, and I am grateful to have seen an increase in support for their accusers.
However, this atmosphere of constant discussion of abuse in media, social conversations, and online comes at a cost for many of us. Especially for survivors of exactly the kinds of crimes that are being talked about on a daily basis the incessant stream of accusations, discussions, and media attention can be draining and deeply painful.
I am a multiple experience sexual assault survivor. On a day to day basis an occasional news story about sexual assault, or a discussion about harassment on a friend’s Facebook wall is a fairly manageable experience for me. Mostly I want to be supportive of other survivors and can often wait to read such things until I am in a good frame of mind (Content/trigger warnings really help this). I have occasionally been pretty seriously triggered by media but that’s not a common experience for me.
But that is my experience in the old world, the one in which weeks or months would go by between reports that various powerful men were being accused. I got a chance to heal a little between major news (or personal) stories about harassment and assault. Once I got more involved in social justice and feminist movements I definitely became a bit more raw – I heard more about people’s experiences, so I struggled a bit more with them. Until recently this was manageable.
Frankly, lately it isn’t.
I’ve been struggling with depression and fear that is deepened daily by report after report of harassment and assault. Every time I pull up my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my podcasts, any radio, or glimpse the TV in the lobby at school I am faced with experiences that remind me of my own. There were no trigger warnings on the conversation around the table at Thanksgiving dinner, nor any way to catch up on other news without also getting a flood of these stories.
Throughout all of this I have still had to go to work and go to school, fulfill my household obligations, and otherwise act as if everything is fine. It’s not fine, I’m not fine, and things are slipping. I am certain I am not the only one struggling like this. This moment is painful for many survivors.
So my question is this: How do we support survivors of harassment, assault, and rape in moments like this where the world is a sea of discussion about the topic? Obviously not talking about it isn’t helpful, because a lack of attention is part of what got us here in the first place. When we are, as a culture, having this necessary conversation, what should we also do to ensure that we are not unnecessarily re-traumatizing those we wish to support and protect?
Some of us have our own experiences very much at the forefront of our minds right now, but few places to discuss those thoughts that actually feel safe. If you are emotionally able to be a place to just listen to the thoughts of the survivors in your life, say so. Be prepared to listen without judgement, or an attempt to fix things. Frankly, being a survivor right now can feel oddly isolating and lonely, and if you can just listen right now it would be great if you would.
On the other hand, many of us also need some space away from the topic entirely. If you can create social spaces to talk about ANYTHING ELSE, that may really help the survivors in your life. Be explicit about the fact that you’re creating a “no talking about the news” kind of zone, and focus conversations on other topics for awhile. Doing so in a way that actively seeks to include survivors helps.
If you are able or willing to do these things, remember that you may not know who the survivors in your life are. If you are able to reach out in a way that is somewhat public, and let folks know you want to create these kinds of spaces, that’d be really helpful too.
Do you have other suggestions about how to support survivors right now? I’d love to hear them.