During your journey to heal after sexual abuse, it is vital that you take very good care of yourself. This includes protecting your mind and soul from images that might trigger a painful memory or feeling. You are already experiencing enough stress so adding unnecessary trauma by watching violent scenes or hearing about horrendous abuse stories is not recommended. However, it is impossible to predict and avoid every media encounter that could bring up emotions of anxiety, fear, and potential flashbacks of sexual violence. Here are some ways to safely handle images of sexual abuse in everyday media.
How to Safely Handle Sexual Violence and Abuse in Social Media, Movies, TV, and News Outlets
Social Media – a vast universe of people sharing their opinions, stories, thoughts, and more. There can be tremendous value in social media sharing and researching, however, if not careful, it can cause more harm than good. Safely navigating social media outlets include:
- Choosing safe and private places to share and explore. Finding groups to discuss, share, or just read about others’ healing processes can be great. If you find groups that you want to join make sure they are private, closed, and trustworthy groups, so that your testimony or comments will only be shared within the group.
- Check all privacy settings before interacting on social media. When sharing outside of closed groups, make sure privacy settings are secure, so that only those whom you want to see your activity can. In addition, privacy settings can limit what is shared with you so you can avoid reading about topics that you do not wish to see.
- Avoid situations that can lead to online bullying. There are many people who prey on survivors for reasons we do not understand. Again, making sure the sites and groups you are in are trustworthy. It is important to prevent information you do not wish to be shared falling into the wrong hands. If your information gets used in ways you did not intend, report the behavior immediately.
- Monitor your own needs and emotions. People in recovery need grace and space. Memories don’t usually come back in solid pieces and emotions often come in uncontrollable waves. This means recovering survivors are not always able to be the best support they would want to be. While corresponding to others through media outlets, remember that what is being said may not be true or may not be said in a sensitive manner. Take care of yourself and remember that your needs are very important.
Movies and Television – Graphic scenes of sexual abuse appear frequently in movies and on TV. These scenes can trigger survivors by reminding them of their abuse and painful past. To help protect yourself from further trauma, keep in mind that the purpose of these shows is to entertain and sadly this includes dramatizing abuse. Highlighting the healing process or revealing steps to wholeness is NOT their priority, neither is your safety. If you choose to watch a show that might be triggering, remember to:
- Read ratings and reviews before watching. Get familiar with the ratings guide and read the reviews and the synopsis, in order to prepare you for what to expect in terms of violence. You can decide if it is something you are comfortable watching based on the descriptions and ratings before you see it.
- You have the right and power to protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured to watch something that makes you feel uncomfortable in order to prove to yourself or others that you are okay. Whether you are in a group of people or alone, you can walk out, change the channel, or fast-forward through anything that makes you feel unsafe.
News Outlets – Online, in print, and television stations regularly report stories of sexual violence. As you consume news and encounter these stories, stay safe by:
- Be aware that these are often opinion pieces or sensationalized to attract readers. Reporters are paid to attract readers, so stories may have intentionally graphic depictions. They may discuss sexual violence from an angle that you don’t agree with. All of this causes people to engage more and to have a “reaction.” You do not have to read these stories. If you begin reading one and start feeling uncomfortable or scared, quit reading and do something helpful such as: journal, take a walk, watch a comedy, or consider talking about it with someone you trust.
- Don’t read comments. Comments can start adding up quickly on a popular story and people often say cruel things, such as they don’t believe the survivor’s story. It is best to avoid the comments as they can come from many untrusted sources.
Get Help if Media Sources are Causing You Anxiety, Feelings of Sadness, or Flashbacks.
It takes a long time to heal and what you can handle at any given time often changes. You might be fine with a certain movie in the spring but after more memories surface, that same movie may be very triggering. You are your best advocate. Protecting yourself is your number one job. You deserve it!
If social media, new stories or any other source of information is difficult for you, please monitor your feelings, and seek support whenever possible.
For more resources on being a survivor of sexual abuse, refer to our list here.
As always, the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) can also provide assistance.