Sexual Assault: re-traumatization, triggers and caring for yourself and others By: Reylena Lopez, MSW
When stories of sexual assault are shared on the news, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook it may be our first reaction to take sides, comment or ignore it. What is even better than making a point to your followers is checking in on your loved ones who have experienced abuse, assault, or rape. According to the United States Department of Justice, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted rape or completed rape in their lifetime. While we may think that hearing these stories on the news can be harmless to other survivors there is such a thing as re-traumatization. And no, no one is “overreacting”. Re-Traumatization is real; it is experienced by survivors of trauma, such as people in the military, sexual assault survivors and individuals of extreme disasters such as September 11th. For women hearing or seeing stories of sexual assault or violence on the media, it can be, “triggering”. This can look like, reoccurring nightmares, flashbacks of the incident, hyper-vigilance or loss of interest in activities. Memories and images are stored in our brain in a very unique way and they do not disappear for survivors just because they reported the incident. However, with the help of friends, family, therapy, or other religious supports survivors can lead full and beautiful lives. Many women feel empowered to share their story to keep other women safe. However, if you are not there yet and in case women in your life were feeling like they were “overreacting”, remind them that these experiences are normal and they are not alone.
If you are not directly affected by sexual assault and violence but want to support other women who are, here are some ways:
Check in with your friends, if they don’t respond give them space and time. It may not be that they can share their story, but they need to feel supported and safe
Encourage the women in your life who have not sought help to find a counselor, specifically a therapist that works with this topic
Remind survivors to monitor social media, if there are friends that they need to, “mute”, delete or “unfriend” it is important to do so
If you are a survivor and feel triggered you can ground yourself. Grounding yourself requires you to identify things in the room that you can feel, touch, smell, taste, hear and see. While grounding yourself it is important to say, “my thoughts and feelings are valid at this moment, but my body is safe right now”
Remind yourself and others that women are resilient, we are strong. Our brains, body, and souls can heal.
For other support, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.