The sexual assault claims made about Harvey Weinstein have shocked the world, with dozens of women coming forward, including many A-listers.
The revelations have prompted many to speak out about their own experiences of sexual assault and harassment, with women around the world tweeting #MeToo to highlight the magnitude of the problem.
Rape culture isn’t exclusive to Hollywood, it is endemic across society and has been that way since “time immemorial”, to quote Emma Thompson.
The revelations are distressing enough for most readers, but particularly survivors of rape, sexual assault and abuse for whom the reports and use of the hashtag (with its pressure to share their stories) may be triggering.
Meena Kumari, National Lead for Domestic Violence and Abuse at independent charity Victim Support said the trauma may be “exacerbated when the event or a similar incident are elaborately reported in the media, forcing survivors to relive that experience and past trauma”.
“Sexual violence is a traumatic experience and those who are subjected to it can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms in the same way that those who’ve survived other kinds of trauma might,” a spokesperson for Rape Crisis told HuffPost UK.
Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, and nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted.
Not only could certain details cause flashbacks for these individuals, but he manner of reporting can have a lasting impact.
The Rape Crisis spokesperson said: “The way stories like this are reported can sometimes implicitly or less so imply that the victim or survivor was someone partly responsible for the violence perpetrated against them.
“This victim-blaming can add to their own sense of self-blame, shame or guilt, for not being able to prevent or fend off the attack or abuse, for example.”
Caitlin Roper, a representative of Collective Shout, a grassroots campaigns movement against the objectification and sexualisation of women, said that revelations such as this can be “devastating” for onlookers with histories of rape and sexual assault.
“It is a painful reminder of how our society regards women who come forward and speak honestly about what has been done to them, and a preview of the treatment they can expect should they speak out themselves.”
However, she believes that the impact of seeing so many women having the bravery to come forward and tell their stories can have a positive impact.
“It can be very validating for survivors to know that other women, perhaps even women they respect, have been through similar experiences and found the strength to overcome them,” she said. “It can be healing to see this abusive treatment of women being widely condemned as wrong and unacceptable.”
It’s important for survivors to safeguard themselves by regularly checking in with how they’re feeling.
Kumari said: “Our advice to anyone who has experienced a sexual assault or for anyone supporting someone through this would be to seek help early on. Early intervention to treat initial signs of stress and trauma can prevent the onset of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).”
Victim Support provided a list of the many potential symptoms associated with trauma:
· Emotional experiences such as shock and numbness, fear and anxiety, helplessness, irritability, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, fear of a similar incident occurring again and also guilt
· Some symptoms may affect people socially such as becoming withdrawn, conflict within relationships and avoidance
· Psychological experiences such as distressing thoughts and images, impaired memory and concentration, disorientation and hypervigilance are common
· There are also physical effects which can range from poor sleep, headaches, insomnia, a lack of appetite and low energy levels
It isn’t just survivors who might be able to spot they aren’t coping with the news cycle, friends and family can also play a crucial role.
Rape Crisis spokesperson advised: “The most important thing is to listen and be patient, allowing them to talk in their own time and not pressuring them into one course of action or another, even if you think something, like therapy or reporting to the police for example, is for their own good or is what you would do in their situation.”
For support visit the following:
Victim Support is an independent charity that provides free specialist practical and emotional support to all victims of crime, including sexual assault, whether or not it has been reported to the police. Call their 24-hour support line on 08 08 16 89 111or visit the website.
The Rape Crisis website has lots of information that survivors and those who love and support them might find useful, including details of local specialist support services, including confidential telephone (0808 802 9999), text and email helplines, counselling and advocacy.