Mental health guidance for women impacted by recent high-profile media coverage of sexual violence, harassment, and abuse scandals

6 March 2018

In consultation with Rape Crisis England and Wales ahead of International Women’s Day, we have released guidance to help those who have found recent reporting around sexual violence in the media re-traumatising.

This follows the recent surge in reporting of scandals featuring sexual violence – including scandals in the entertainment and charity sector and during the US Presidential election - that have the potential to set off traumatic feelings in people who have experienced sexual violence.

Research indicates experiences of sexual violence among women are widespread. 61% of women reported having experienced sexual violence during adulthood, and 10 percent reported having experienced sexual violence in the past year. 1.

The Mental Health Foundation focuses on prevention of mental health problems. The advice is designed to help people at risk of being re-traumatised by giving them techniques to gain some control and headspace after they have seen an upsetting report. 

Dr Amy Pollard from the Mental Health Foundation said:

"The recent scandals and the growing #MeToo movement have been an important moment for women to raise their voices against sexual violence and harassment.

"But it can bring up a range of conflicting feelings for those who have experienced sexual violence themselves. Being surrounded by constant reports of sexual violence can be re-traumatising for survivors, especially if they feel the coverage is something they can’t escape from.

"It's very hard to know how many survivors are affected this way – but we do know that there are many people who are potentially at risk. Many may have never disclosed their experiences.
"But there are positive things people can do to protect their mental health from repeated trauma. Simple techniques like taking a breath when you are feeling anxious about a report you have seen or writing down your thoughts can make a real difference.

"That is why we have published these guidelines today following consultation with experts on managing trauma from sexual violence."

Recent media reports have been linked to an upsurge of women seeking advice and help. Rape Crisis saw a 28% increase in calls in the two weeks after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis said:

"We routinely see marked spikes in contact from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence when these topics are high profile in the news or featured in the storylines of popular dramas. 

"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."

While the advice has been released for International Women’s Day, the Mental Health Foundation and Rape Crisis England & Wales fully acknowledge that men and boys also experience rape and sexual violence and that the impacts on their lives can be similarly devastating and long lasting. These techniques can be applied by anyone, irrelevant of gender.

Read the guidance