When news became personal: Weinstein, Larry Nassar, #MeToo … me too

Trigger warning: this story discusses sexual harassment, violence and abuse.

In the past three years I have experienced sexual harassment, violence and domestic and emotional abuse...  throughout this time, it felt like the news and media coverage became personal, and about me.

This is because the news and media currently have an increased focus on stories around sexual harassment, violence and abuse. Since enduring my own experiences, the way I now react to this media coverage is different.

It easily triggers me. I am hypersensitive and more aware of the related content. This means I can quickly spiral downwards from the psychosomatic and psychological effects of trauma that the coverage can connect me to. 

Now that this coverage has increased, it feels like a daily comment and reminder of my lived experience. 

Katie Russell, from Rape Crisis England & Wales, on triggers:

A 'trigger' can be a smell, sound, image, word... anything that sparks a memory of your previous experience of sexual abuse or violence. 

"Sometimes you might feel that memory in your body, as if you're re-experiencing what you've been through in the past.

"Everyone is different, but reactions to a trigger can include flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts, which can feel distressing and re-traumatising.

"The national Rape Crisis helpline and our local member Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales see marked spikes in contact from survivors of child sexual abuse, rape and sexual violence when these topics are high profile in the news or featured in the storylines of popular dramas. 

"For example, the national helpline saw a 28% increase in calls during the first two weeks of the Harvey Weinstein story emerging, and a 68% increase during the time the last series of Broadchurch was airing. 

"Survivors frequently tell us about the triggering impact this kind of content can have, and we regularly ask media to be mindful of the very many survivors who will always inevitably be among any given audience, because of the huge prevalence of sexual violence."

One evening, during the 2016 presidential election in the United States, my mum held me in her arms as I sobbed. That morning had started with the news re-playing a tape from 2005, which contained audio of Donald Trump saying, "You can do anything ... Grab them by the p****. You can do anything." That evening ended with a friend sending a meme, it contained a made-up image of Donald Trump sexually assaulting Hilary Clinton. 

It is easy to see how such a violation of an individual can become trivialised - abuse starts to feel remote to people repeatedly reading about it who have not experienced it, and it can be all too easy to forget and be insensitive to the fact that there are survivors all around us still living with the life-changing impact of what has happened.

This is just some of the news content I've viewed through the eyes of a survivor over the past few years:

  • 'Trump, sexual harassment, violence and abuse claims'
  • 'Harvey Weinstein, sexual harassment, violence and abuse claims' 
  • 'Larry Nassar sexual abuse case' 
  • 'Oxfam sex scandal'
  • 'LabourToo sexual abuse allegations'

… and the list goes on.

I cannot escape it. Normalisation of sexual violence, sexual violence allegations and sexual violence incidents are surrounding me. I am triggered again, and again, and again. I am reminded that I, too, was raped and abused.

I will not be alone in struggling with the constant re-traumatisation and triggers that come from increased news and media focus on sexual harassment, violence and abuse. It is everywhere: on your smart-phone, tablet, laptop, papers, magazines, blogs, social media streams, WhatsApp memes, office conversations, chats with your friends and more...

"Sixty-one percent of women reported having experienced sexual violence during adulthood, and 10% reported having experienced sexual violence in the past year," our new report says.

Managing the impact of extended news coverage on survivors' mental health

The rise in public awareness of sexual harassment, violence and abuse towards women and girls, alongside women feeling able to choose to share their stories (if it is right for them) via empowered media coverage, has been, and is, critically important for shifting public consciousness and creating a need for change. As this movement and rise in media coverage and representation continues, we also need to support the women who find their mental health negatively impacted by exposure to stories of abuse in today's hyper-connected world.

Sometimes, I want to rebuild my life after sexual harassment, violence and abuse away from reminders, and sometimes I want to connect to the stories. The way that we choose to respond as a survivor is an individual experience. It is about every survivor feeling empowered and in control after such a disempowering experience.

More information

Now, if I get triggered and feel my body and mind react I take five minutes and take some simple steps which really help me to feel grounded, empowered and safe again...

If you've experienced rape or sexual violence and want to talk to someone, Rape Crisis are on hand every day of the year. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 from 12 noon-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm. Also, you can find information on where your nearest Rape Crisis Centre is.

If you are worried that your relationship, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling or unsafe, visit Women's Aid or call the Freephone 24/7 National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Refuge, on 0808 2000 247.