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Surviving Sexual Violence in the Media

In times like these, it can be extremely difficult to tune out the onslaught of conversations about sexual violence. People are posting about it online and talking about it in person nonstop. For survivors of sexual violence, hearing people talk about it all the time can be exhausting and, in some cases, triggering. There’s no guaranteed way to avoid all the buzz and difficult feelings about sexual violence, but I do have a few tips on how to manage.

1) Develop a strategy for media consumption. 

When sexual violence is discussed constantly in the news, on social media, and in conversations with friends and family, it can be incredibly easy to feel triggered. An easy piece of advice would be to stay off the internet, but not only is that impossible for some people, but it’s also not going to block everything out. So when I know people are going to be talking about it, or when I want to stay informed without feeling unsafe, I find it helpful to develop a strategy for my consumption of media. For example: when I’m looking through news articles and Tweets about sexual violence, I skip past anything that seems inflammatory or argumentative, and instead focus on either objective-style news reporting or empathetic comments from trusted sources. I also find it’s a good idea to figure out ahead of time how to deal with alarming or triggering content. I start by writing down a list of things that help me to cope and carry it with me, like breathing exercises, funny memes or distractions, and friends I can call. I also write down reminders for myself, like “I am safe” and “I am strong enough to survive these feelings.” It’s nearly impossible to walk through life without being reminded of the violence that surrounds us, but self-care can combat these reminders, which brings me to the next tip…

2) Make self-care personal.

Self-care is the act of a person doing what they need to do to cope and process their feelings. I love the idea of self-care and the fact that it has entered the mainstream spotlight. But, sometimes I don’t relate to the typical self-care suggestions. I personally don’t like baths, I’m not a big tea drinker, and I often get distracted while listening to music. I know that these activities are often helpful for people who are feeling overwhelmed, but I frequently have to remind myself that these are not the only options for self-care. It can look however you want it to look. For me, I often re-watch Grey’s Anatomy for the thousandth time when I’m going through a particularly difficult period.

In terms of processing my feelings, sometimes it helps to write things down (like in our creative writing and zine-making workshop), but sometimes I would rather call a friend and talk about it, or make some abstract art to put images to how I’m feeling. All of those are perfectly normal modes of expression. Therapy can also be an incredibly useful tool in exploring any feelings that are coming up. If you don’t currently have access to a therapist, you can see one of our counselors or we can recommend one in the area.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how I do self-care or how people on Instagram do it — what matters is what works for you. Think about what makes you happy and calm, write down a list, and keep it for when times are hard. And if something isn’t making you feel better, ditch it! Try something else. As long as you’re being safe, there’s no wrong way to take care of yourself.

3) Don’t feel like you have to join the conversation.

For the last couple years, as #MeToo has taken over social media and the news cycle, it has become almost expected that survivors will share their story in order to bring attention to this tremendously important issue. However, it’s not your personal responsibility to raise awareness or educate at your own expense. Not everyone is ready to talk about their experiences at the same time. Some people are never ready to talk about it, and that’s okay. Not to mention, there’s a huge difference between sharing a story with trusted friends and loved ones, and sharing a story with the entire world. Some brave survivors are stepping up at a time when this movement is gaining a lot of momentum, and that is an incredibly beautiful thing. But no one is obligated to do that. Everyone has their own journey, and no one should feel pressured into doing something that would make them uncomfortable or unsafe. Choosing not to share does not make you any less of a strong survivor.

It’s your decision how to share your story. No matter how you react to the media and the public discussion of sexual violence, you are strong and your experience is valid. These tips may not give you everything you need to get through discussions of sexual violence in the media, but supportive friends and family, a therapist, and resources here at the OCRCC can also help. You can always call our hotline at 866-WE LISTEN (935-4783) or 919-967-7273. Please remember to reach out if you’re having trouble, and make space for yourself to experience your feelings as they come. This world of violence is difficult to navigate for us all, and it takes immense strength, but you’re not alone in this journey.

Olivia Neal is our 2018 Digital Media Intern at OCRCC, and a senior at UNC studying English and Women’s and Gender Studies. She loves poetry, soft indie music, and her cat, Baby Spice.

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