Triggered by the news

Today, it is practically impossible to escape the news reports in which yet another well-known person has been sexually abusive to someone. Stories are everywhere and your newsfeed is likely flooded with news articles, comments and friends sharing their own stories.

The fact that sexual assault allegations are being investigated seriously and given media attention is absolutely a step in the right direction, but being exposed to these constant headlines can be especially triggering for sexual assault victims. Many victims of sexual assault suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be triggered by hearing other people’s traumatic stories.
Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to data from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), which also estimates that 321,500 Americans are sexually assaulted each year. Approximately 90 percent of rape survivors are women. Sexual assault survivors are at a greater risk for developing PTSD. Statistically, almost a third of all rape survivors develop PTSD some time during their life, according to the National Center for PTSD. When you have PTSD, it is normal to be triggered by various things, including hearing someone’s story of assault, which can produce a deep emotional reaction.
Just like grief, every person’s experience dealing with PTSD is different. A sexual assault survivor might become very anxious, distressed, and fearful after hearing about someone else’s assault. They also might have heart palpitations, sweating, and dizziness, as well as nightmares or flashbacks. “Most survivors don’t know what’s going to trigger them,” says Laura Palumbo, from The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). “Hearing the news about a case one day may not affect you on a deeper level, but maybe another story that covers a case of sexual assault in a way that uses a level of detail is deeply triggering.”
Survivors of sexual assault may try to avoid all reminders of their experience, which is understandable, but avoidance is not a healthy coping strategy and can make things harder as time passes. Many times I meet women who were assaulted years ago and have tried to bury their feelings, but as time passes, they realize that their abuse has caused many issues in their adult life. Finally they reach out and seek help and are able to move forward.
If you’re a sexual assault survivor, and you have a strong reaction to news of similar incidents, Simon Rego, Chief Psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center says it’s important to ground yourself in the moment. “It’s good to remind yourself that you’re in a safe place and that the memories, although they’re scary, aren’t dangerous,” he says. One way to do this is to focus on something you can see, something you can touch, something you can hear, and something you can smell or taste. Breathing exercises, meditation and simply getting out for a walk can help bring your mind back to the present.
You may wish to reach out to a rape crisis center such as Crisis Services of North Alabama, to talk about your feelings. Support from Crisis Services is not just in the immediate aftermath—it’s whenever you feel that you need support, even years later. Above all, remember that your feelings and experiences are valid, and that help is available if you need it.
Crisis Services of North Alabama Jackson County office may be reached at 256.716.1000. Our services are confidential and free.

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