Today, victims of sexual assault are publically sharing their stories right and left. Everywhere we look– the newspapers, Facebook, our offices, and the streets– seem to be filled with declarations of #metoo. Almost everyone seems to be a victim of sexual assault.
But in our warm and tight-knit communities, we feel reassured that this problem belongs to the outside world. We feel safe sending our kids out, and would never suspect our loving teachers, neighbors, and community leaders.
The truth is, abuse happens in every community. No one is immune, and refusing to acknowledge the problem can lead to even more disastrous consequences. Nearly one-third of all rape victims develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Symptoms of PTSD can recede but for approximately 1 in 10 of those who develop PTSD, symptoms remain.
Both men and women suffer from PTSD and other mental health symptoms as a result of sexual assault and rape. Their symptoms may include depression, anxiety, intrusive flashback, nightmares and suicidal thoughts, persistent interpersonal problems and a host of other woes which result from having been the victim of sexual abuse.
The good, the bad, and the pain
One of the positive outcomes of recent events is that women who survived a sexual assault in familiar circumstances, such as a social gathering, may be more likely to understand that it is not their fault. But with this realization, they are also coming to terms with the realities of the dangers of power imbalances and the pain that comes with the memory and lack of resolution.
There are reports of women who have long buried their traumatic memories having panic attacks while reading victims stories on Facebook or watching the struggle for justice in today’s news.
Many survivors of sexual assault try to avoid triggers that can bring up an intense emotional reaction. But today, with virtually every TV news program and Facebook feed, and even in less secular publications, it is very difficult if not impossible to avoid all triggers.
How to handle triggering events
While you may want to avoid social media and news coverage, you cannot isolate yourself from the world.
Reach out to others, but be selective in who you reach out to. Find those who can support you in a way that you can benefit from. Sharing your own experiences on Facebook or commenting on other’s experiences may leave you feeling unvalidated or re-traumatized due to the nature of social media. Choose your confidants carefully.
Therapy with an experienced and empathetic professional can be a better, more controlled way of reaching out for help. It is better to find a healing environment that can offer educated and experienced support.
Spend time alone with the aim of self care. Spending time in nature can be very healing. A visit to the ocean, park or any safe natural area where you can relax can separate you from the endless barrage of media stories that are upsetting
Take a break from the TV and online sources of media. As much as possible, shut off your devices. Listening to relaxing music, reading, or inviting friends over to visit without a constant stream of media flowing through your environment will allow you the break you need.
Challenge your own defeating thoughts. Don’t hold yourself responsible for what happened to you, not even partially. Trusting the wrong person or ending up in a bad situation can and has, happened to good, intelligent people. If you would not blame others for what happened to them, why blame yourself?
When we survey the political climate around us, it may be easiest to turn away and write off sexual assault as their problem. It may be calming to tell ourselves that we are above this, and our children are safe as long as they remain in the protective bubble of the Jewish community.
Yet, in reality, denying the problem makes it more difficult for victims to come out and receive the proper treatment. PTSD and trauma symptoms often improve simply by talking to friends or a competent therapist. A therapist is trained to help you gain a better understanding of what happened and move past the trauma so you can move forward as a stronger and more resilient you.
So, next time you read the news and are tempted to make a remark about how the rest of the world has gone crazy, think carefully. What are the effects of separating ourselves from this horrific and pervasive problem? Perhaps declaring #ustoo will help the silent victims in our communities seek help and heal.