Reactions to reports of sexual assault cases
A few days ago, the name Brock Turner didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t know who he was, what he did or the life he leads. Then, I went on Buzzfeed.
Late one night sitting on the couch, I came across a link to an article about the Standford rape case on Twitter. A survivor of sexual assault had penned an open letter to her assailant. I opened the page and for the next few minutes, sat riveted, reading her words.
This woman’s story was an account of what had happened to her, the horror of waking up unaware that she had been assaulted, her journey to rebuild her life and rebuild herself, after the privilege being awarded to a man found guilty of a horrible, criminal act, who was only sentenced to six months jail time in order to lessen the impact on his life.
Surviving sexual assualt
I have a vested interest in such tales. Being a survivor (I refuse to say victim) of sexual assault in my teenage years, I almost always click on news links or read articles that deal with the subject in one way or another.
I liken it to reading the news of your home town, even years after you’ve moved away. It’s not really a part of your life anymore, but it once affected you daily.
Triggering news coverage
In saying that, reading these things can be very triggering. Consuming such information has the ability to take me back to the history of my own experience, reminding me of events I would love to completely erase from my mind.
It can upset me on a profound level to read of somebody else’s experiences because I can identify and empathise all too well and a sadness washes over me that this has had happened to another person. That while I am no longer in immediate danger, many others still are.
That realisation and the experiences of others makes me sad. But, what’s even worse is the vile, horrific things people say online about rape and sexual assault. To be honest, people’s reactions are what elicit the most emotion from me.
There are comments that are never constructive, they’re domineering. These are the same people who will say things like it’s not like she was raped (like there’s a difference), that the guy was drunk and made a stupid mistake, that #NotAllMen attack women, that if Western women think they’re in danger, they should try living in Saudi Arabia.
Yes, that’s right. We should all ship out to a country that still holds public executions and stones women and then realise how good we have it. Men taking advantage of you when you’re drunk? Catcalls down the street? The fear or walking on your own at night? Pah! That’s a flesh wound.
As much as I am lifted by many men who not only recognise the patriarchy and the rape culture that women have to face but do what they can to destroy it, I am exhausted and haunted by the many others who facilitate its being. At times, it can feel relentless.
Reacting to coverage
What I need to remember is that although such stories, whether it’s Amber Heard’s allegation of domestic violence (and the smear campaign that is going on against her) or the Brock Turner’s of the world who remind me of my own past, they don’t have ownership over me. They do not control me. What happened does not control me.
So when I find that something is triggering, that it hits too close to the bone and it makes me feel raw and vulnerable, I let myself feel that. I don’t try and pretend it’s not happening or think that I’m weak for having an emotional response.
Managing your feelings
If I need to, I talk to someone else about how I’m feeling. I do something nice for myself, whether it’s making a mug of hot chocolate or watching something on Netflix. I take the time to take care of myself.
I don’t beat myself up over it and you shouldn’t either. Be aware of what you’re feeling and allow yourself to feel it. I promise, it’s the best response.