Most of us cannot turn on our choice of media without hearing about the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Since the 2016 election cycle countless survivors have bravely shared their stories of harm caused by powerful individuals, most of them men, through acts of sexual violence. These stories are so important, and the national conversation they have generated is critical.
These conversations have an impact on all of us, and for survivors they are a constant reminder of some of our most painful experiences. For some, it may stir up memories of experiences that have long been buried. For others, it is another reminder of the trauma that haunts us daily. It is common for post-traumatic stress responses to intensify when we are inundated with these conversations, and for many survivors anxiety and sleepless nights are all too familiar.
If you are finding it difficult to navigate the impact of sexual violence in the news, here are a few tips:
Listen to your body. If you notice you are feeling sick to your stomach while scrolling through your Facebook feed, give yourself permission to disconnect from social media for a bit. Our bodies are wise, and will often tell us when we are getting overwhelmed if we can learn to tune inward.
Validate your feelings. Remember that your feelings are always valid, even if they are different from other survivors or those closest to you. Some of us may feel angry right now, while others may feel deeply sad. Still others may feel energized and empowered. When you notice yourself having an emotional response, give yourself validation by simply naming that feeling and reminding yourself that it is OK to feel it.
Cope in whatever way feels best to you. Right now you may really want to talk about your own experiences of sexual violence with those closest to you. You may also feel like blasting ABBA tunes and not talking about sexual violence at all. There is no hierarchy in coping strategies - whatever works best to help you stay healthy and supported is what is best for you. If you are not sure how to cope, this handout will provide you with more information on post-traumatic stress and how to cope with the impact of it.
Be clear about your boundaries. It is likely that many of your friends and family members are also being impacted by these conversations, and they may want to talk with you about it. They may also want support from you. It is important to get clear with yourself about what your boundaries are and to be clear about those boundaries with others. Boundaries you may want to consider include what you want to talk about, with whom, in what context, etc.
Remember that you are not alone. Identify who your trusted sources of support are. This could include a close friend, an online support group, a therapist, or a local crisis line. Remember, the Rape Recovery Center crisis line is available 24/7 by calling 801-467-7273. Other professional supports include the national sexual assault crisis line provided by RAINN 1-800-656-4673, and the UNI general mental health crisis line 801-587-3000.