Coping With Sexual Violence Reportage: A Guide for Survivors

Stories of rape and violence can act as triggers for survivors of sexual abuse. Tips on coping with the trauma.

3 min read
Hindi Female

As graphic details emerge and are repeated on television screens, on news print and on social media of yet another rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, it triggers in thousands of survivors memories they’ve buried deep.

“It was the #MeToo movement that triggered my memories of abuse as a child, painful memories I had not confronted for long,” says a friend. It also triggered a conversation within her family. Her mother and sister shared their own stories of abuse and the three of them opened up and found support in each other.

But with each subsequent reporting of yet another sexual violence, she wanted to shut herself out. The constant stream was triggering trauma she wanted to leave behind.


In the United States, televised testimony by Professor Christine Blasey Ford, recalling her sexual assault allegedly at the hands of US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, has triggered trauma and feelings of anger and helplessness in thousands of sexual assault survivors. It hasn’t helped that there is so little empathy for her and so much more for the Supreme Court nominee in the narrative that has emerged.

They’ve expressed themselves by either sharing their own stories with the #WhyIDidntReport, or they’ve chosen to log off.

Psychologists say many survivors suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, and little things can trigger the trauma.

Speak Out, Or Not. Put Your Emotions First

Stories of rape and violence can act as triggers for survivors of sexual abuse. Tips on coping with the trauma.
#MeToo movement helped many women address their stories of abuse.
(Photo: iStock)

Kamna Chibber, a clinical psychologist with Fortis Hospital, Delhi, says it’s perfectly alright for survivors to not want to hear the constant barge of reporting and tune themselves out. It’s important that if your friends and family have been through such trauma that you be sensitive around them, don’t force them to watch toxic media and don’t flood their feed with stories of assault.

But it can also be cathartic to confront your emotions, whether you wish to do it publicly or not is your choice.

There are no strict rules here. There is no right or wrong.

It entirely depends upon your emotional state. But if the triggers lead to such strong reactions, it’s perhaps time to confront them. Have you worked through your feelings of guilt, blame, shame? Distress that’s not been worked out will lead to a lot more distress.
Kamna Chibber

Seema Hingorani, a clinical psychologist in Mumbai, speaks about the sense of security.

For abuse survivors, the two things we take for granted, comfort and safety, have been taken away. It’s important to feel what you are feeling. Locked up emotions can lead to anxiety and phobias.  

It’s important to understand where that avoidance is coming from and to work through your triggers.


What are the Common Triggers?

A smell, a gesture, a movement, a news report, a rape joke, an angry glance directed at you on the street, sometimes even an innocuous conversation around feminism, equality, can be a trigger. And they can result in panic attacks, flashbacks, feeling helpless, loneliness, isolation.

If a smell of a perfume can trigger such strong emotions that lead to physiological symptoms, imagine what images and graphics can do?
Seema Hingorani

That’s why it is important to reach out.

You should reengage with those feelings. Talk to a friend, a loved one, or a reach out to a professional. A better understanding of the trigger, confronting why you are feeling the way you are, will help you move forward and feel empowered.
Kamna Chibber, Clinical Psychologist, Fortis Hospital

Reporting on Sexual Violence

Guidelines exist on how you report on sexual violence, but most are limited to not revealing the identity of the victim. Both journalists and psychologists have argued that how we report on the graphic nature of the violence can act as a trigger for victims. Some reports are almost voyeuristic in nature in how the crime itself is described. Recently, The Guardian in an article called out a powerful report by an Associated Press reporter on rape and violence in South Sudan for its almost ‘salacious’ detailing.

Experts stress on the need for sensitive and empathetic reporting.

At the very least, all reports on sexual violence should offer a listing of helplines that the survivors can reach out to.

(If you or someone you know needs help, please refer to this state-wise repository of trusted mental health professionals across India, curated by The Health Collective.)

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Topics:  Sexual Abuse   PTSD   Rape Survivors 

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