The sexual assault claims made about Harvey Weinstein have shocked the world, with more than 30 women coming forward, including many A-listers.
The revelations are distressing enough for most readers, but particularly survivors of rape, sexual assault and abuse for whom the reports may be triggering.
Meena Kumari, National Lead for Domestic Violence and Abuse at independent charity Victim Support said the trauma may be “exacerbated when the event or a similar incident are elaborately reported in the media, forcing survivors to relive that experience and past trauma”.
Sexual violence is a traumatic experience and those who are subjected to it can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms in the same way that those who’ve survived other kinds of trauma might.
Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, and nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted.
Not only could certain details cause flashbacks for these individuals, but he manner of reporting can have a lasting impact.
A Rape Crisis spokesperson said: “The way stories like this are reported can sometimes implicitly or less so imply that the victim or survivor was someone partly responsible for the violence perpetrated against them.
This victim-blaming can add to their own sense of self-blame, shame or guilt, for not being able to prevent or fend off the attack or abuse, for example.
Caitlin Roper, founder of Collective Shout, a grassroots campaigns movement against the objectification and sexualisation of women, said that revelations such as this can be “devastating” for onlookers with histories of rape and sexual assault.
“It is a painful reminder of how our society regards women who come forward and speak honestly about what has been done to them, and a preview of the treatment they can expect should they speak out themselves.”
However, she believes that the impact of seeing so many women having the bravery to come forward and tell their stories can have a positive impact.
“It can be very validating for survivors to know that other women, perhaps even women they respect, have been through similar experiences and found the strength to overcome them,” she said. “It can be healing to see this abusive treatment of women being widely condemned as wrong and unacceptable.”
It’s important for survivors to safeguard themselves by regularly checking in with how they’re feeling.
Kumari said: “Our advice to anyone who has experienced a sexual assault or for anyone supporting someone through this would be to seek help early on. Early intervention to treat initial signs of stress and trauma can prevent the onset of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).”
Some potential symptoms associated with trauma:
- Emotional experiences such as shock and numbness, fear and anxiety, helplessness, irritability, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, fear of a similar incident occurring again and also guilt
- Some symptoms may affect people socially such as becoming withdrawn, conflict within relationships and avoidance
- Psychological experiences such as distressing thoughts and images, impaired memory and concentration, disorientation and hypervigilance are common
- There are also physical effects which can range from poor sleep, headaches, insomnia, a lack of appetite and low energy levels
It isn’t just survivors who might be able to spot they aren’t coping with the news cycle, friends and family can also play a crucial role.
The most important thing is to listen and be patient, allowing them to talk in their own time and not pressuring them into one course of action or another, even if you think something, like therapy or reporting to the police for example, is for their own good or is what you would do in their situation.
Gaia by the Med Retreats and PTSD Coaching specialises in non-invasive, brain-based techniques that help clients alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, trauma and anxiety. These techniques are simple and easy to use and can be self administered once the client learns how to apply them, resulting in a powerful and beneficial long term impact.