Strategies for survivors when sexual assault is in the news

| February 26, 2024
Posted in: , , ,

When sexual assault stories are in the news, it can be stressful and retraumatizing for survivors. Retraumatization can cause the return of physical sensations, including:

  • sweating;
  • nausea or shortness of breath;
  • emotional sensations like panic, anger, and other distress;
  • and even flashbacks related to the original trauma.

Retraumatization is a normal, biological response to surviving traumatic events. It can be helpful to reach out to others who might be able to provide comfort and support while these occur. Reaching out to mental health support can help, too.

If you need support related to trauma around sexual assault or other types of gender-based violence, visit the JHU We listen.You decide. page for a complete list of confidential resources.

You can also directly email the Gender-Based Violence Prevention team; a trauma-informed, confidential resources who supports all JHU students in survivor-led problem solving.

To support folks who might feel activated by such media coverage, we’ve curated some strategies for maintaining your emotional equilibrium when current events bring up negative feelings.

Get ahead of it if you can.

More often than not, a scary news day comes out of nowhere and you just have to do your best to manage any emotions that arise. However, when you can, think ahead and make a plan for days that are likely to be stressful (like the beginning of a prominent trial), and make sure those plans include relaxing activities, connecting with like-minded people, and thoughtful news consumption. Speaking of which…

Limit your news consumption.

You do not have to bear witness to all of the pain and injustice in the world to be an active member of it, or even to be active in combating it.

If you find yourself regularly feeling upset during or after consuming the news or social media, step away from those platforms more frequently, especially when you have shared experiences with what is covered in the news. Your emotional safety is important, just as is physical safety!

If you do want to stay informed about a specific story or about general events, set aside regular and brief times to review reliable news outlets. When you’re done, stop and do something else. The same advice applies to social media, both for passive consumption of what others are posting and active interaction (e.g., fighting with people on the Internet).

Be present.

Live in the moment and focus on what you can control. This is hard if you’re constantly taking in new information, which is why cutting back on media consumption is the first step.

Do things you enjoy to self-soothe and channel your thoughts away from what is distressing. Exercise, cooking, making art, spending time with loved ones, prayer, meditation (try the Calm app), or spending time in nature are all great options.

If you find it difficult to stop ruminating, try SilverCloud, where you will find a series of interactive learning modules that teach cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. Full-time Hopkins students over the age of 18 can access this platform for free. It even has specific modules on coping with anxiety, stress, and challenging times.

Refuel.

No one can pour from an empty cup! If your cup is empty, it can be harder find the energy to pull away from what is distressing.

Get enough sleep, enough nutritious food, and enough rest. Hang out with friends who energize you. Seek out your communities that feel good for you and give you a sense of belonging (friend groups, clubs, projects, etc). Taking care of yourself physically will support your emotional equilibrium.

Get involved.

This one certainly is not mandatory! Only do it if you feel ready, or like this is a good path for you at this place in time.

Gender-based violence, like sexual assault, can remove connections to power and agency from those who experience it. There are so many ways to regain power and agency. One way is to get involved with things you care about. If you feel like all your other needs are met and want to find outlets for your energy, it can be helpful to find groups or organizations that have missions that resonate with you. These can be related to gender-based violence, but they do not have to be!

Keep in mind that involvement looks different for everyone. For example, attending protests or knocking on doors for candidates is doable for some people; others find less visible but equally important ways to contribute.

As you engage in involvement, consider what has been called “the parable of the choir.”

A choir (or a wind ensemble) can play intricate, moving pieces, with impossibly long notes with no discernible break. They can do this because the individual members of the group stagger breaths. When one person needs to stop and take a breath, the others keep going. And when that person has caught their breath, they rejoin and another person can stop to take their breath and so on. What results is the completed and unbroken composition.

Remember to stop when you need to catch your breath. You can rejoin when you are able, and the rest of your choir will carry on until you can return and give space for someone else to take a break.

Hopkins has a plethora of social well-being resources available to help you, including SOURCE (serving East Baltimore) and the Center for Social Concern (serving Homewood).

Seek professional support if you need it.

If you are experiencing high levels of stress for any reason, consider reaching out to a clinician or other resources for a consultation. Some key Hopkins resources include:

  • Stress and Depression Questionnaire (all students and trainees). An anonymous online tool that helps assess how stress and depression may be affecting you and provide the opportuniy to confidentially chat with a counselor online.
  • Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST). A program for pairing clinicians with public safety officers to respond to behavioral health crises on or in areas immediately surrounding our Baltimore campuses.
  • Free access to Mental Telehealth, powered by TimelyMD, for degree-seeking students and trainees. Mental Telehealth offers a 24/7 phone line, as well as providers licensed in all 50 states for virtual therapy appointments. Note: telehealth therapy appointments are only available to people physically located in the United States. Your citizenship doesn’t matter, but your physical location does. Students in the U.S. and in countries that permit web access can use the 24/7 TalkNow service. If neither of these options is available to you, please contact your Hopkins mental health office (see below) for support.
  • Mental Health Services – Homewood (410-516-8278). Serves all in-person undergraduate and graduate students and trainees from Krieger, Whiting, and the Peabody Institute, as well as in-person students in the School of Education, Carey Business School (Baltimore campus), and in-person Engineering for Professionals students.
  • Mental Health Services – East Baltimore (410-955-18920). Serves graduate, medical, and professional students and trainees in the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health.
  • Mental Health Services – Washington, DC (443-287-7000). Serves students in taking in-person classes in DC, including SAIS, Carey DC, AAP, and Engineering for Professionals.
  • We listen. You decide. This community of confidential staff are trained in trauma-informed, culturally responsive practices and do not have the same reporting and duties as other staff and faculty members on campus.
  • The Office of Institutional Equity. This office investigates all complaints of discrimination and/or harassment against students, faculty, and staf
  • Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) at JHU. A student-run advocacy group that supports all survivors of sexual violence and works to dismantle rape culture.
  • Gender Violence Prevention and Education: Alyse Campbell, acampb39@jh.edu, book a time to chat at: tinyurl.com/MeetwAlyse. Serves all Johns Hopkins students.
  • JHU Sexual Assault Helpline (410-516-7333). This helpline is a confidential service, staffed 24 hours a day by professional counselors.

Some key community resources include: