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Coping With The Sexual Assault News As A Survivor

Last week, I walked into my therapist’s office with a smile on my face.

“How are you? You’re smiling,” he said to me.

My smile crumbled as the tears started to stream down my face.

“Smiling to keep from crying,” he then said.

I had just received some hateful comments on my articles about abusive relationships from angry men.

“You’re the reason why feminism is cancer. Get over it.”

“You were abused because you didn’t try to earn respect. You don’t deserve respect if you don’t earn it from men.”

“Go and be scared of men if you want to. No one cares.”

Over the past few months I’ve been experiencing stress and anxiety over the constant stream of sexual assault and harassment news. I’m glad men and women are speaking out about this problem because too many have been silent for too long. With people like Matt Lauer being called out for sexually harassing women, we’re finally addressing that the treatment of women is a major issue that knows no political party or religious belief. It’s a problem for everyone, everywhere. I don’t want the survivors coming forward to stop because I truly believe this is the beginning of a revolution. Predators can no longer hide behind power and people are demanding respect and their right to feel safe in the workplace.

As a survivor of both domestic abuse and sexual assault/harassment, I’m also triggered by all of the stories that have come out. My C-PTSD has caused me to distrust men and always be on guard. I already have a scary view of the world and the recent news has made it even scarier for me. I see signs of abuse everywhere. I work with students and sometimes I see male students getting aggressive with female students and joking about how they beat women. Though they claim to be joking, I find myself crippled with anxiety when these situations pop up at work. I’m on edge and defensive as a result of PTSD and every time a story comes out about someone having committed sexual assault, I can feel myself tensing up with fear. Do men really think that little of women? Am I in danger?

I’m so proud of those coming forward but I was struggling and I didn’t want to live in fear. My therapist helped me with reframing my thoughts and utilizing practical self-care practices to help me cope with the world.

What I like about my therapist is that he doesn’t lie or sugar-coat. He knows trying to have me see the world through rose-colored glasses will only lead to more anxiety as reality eventually sinks in. He was honest about there being bad people out there and the treatment of women is an issue. He also reminded me that there are more good people out there than bad. The news focuses on the worst of the worst because that’s where the views are. Whenever I see a negative news story, I don’t need to ignore it because I don’t believe in allowing yourself to be ignorant to the world’s problems all for the sake of “positive thinking.” However, I need to remind myself that something good happened along with the bad.

I had already deleted Instagram but I decided to take it a step further by deleting Facebook. I’m a big fan of debates and sharing opinions but the hateful comments floating around on Facebook were too much for me to take. It created this illusion that the world is only filled with hate and ignorance. The hate and ignorance is out there. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t but I was taken aback by just how many terrible victim shaming and blaming comments I’d see every day. I can control when I open the paper or turn on the news and only have to expose myself to it when I feel like I can handle it. Facebook comments sneak up on you out of nowhere. I could unfollow people and pages all I wanted but even a picture of a cute puppy could have a sexist comment under it somewhere.

My therapist helped me out the fears Facebook instilled in me into perspective by reminding me that most sane, logical people are not constantly leaving Facebook comments. People also create fake accounts so they can leave several comments pretending to be different people. Some people are also “trolls” and say things to get a reaction. Every time there was a sexual assault story I would see comments from men saying women need to suck it up, men have a right women’s bodies, women were probably lying, and more. Deleting Facebook and remembering that there are good people out there who are not spending their time leaving hateful comments has helped me open myself back up and feel less afraid of the world.

The most important thing my therapist taught me when I told him how afraid I had become was that it’s okay to feel anger. By feeling anger, I acknowledge that what some men were saying to me was wrong and that I did not deserve it. When I allow myself to crumble under their hateful words, I give them the power and I’m likely blaming myself or believing what they tell me. Anger gives me the upper-hand and the power. Anger tells those men “I will not tolerate this.” I was trying to keep myself safe by staying withdrawn but this was also closing me off to positive opportunities. I now feel more empowered and like I have the ability to stand up for myself. Keep in mind, I’m not saying this can prevent assault or harassment. Assault and harassment happens to all types of women for a variety of reasons. I’ve had men continue to harass me even after I’ve said no. I do not want anyone to be victim shamed under the belief that “if they were just stronger, it wouldn’t have happened.” The point is that I now have control over my response and how I allow people to affect me emotionally.

At the end of the day, I have a better life than the men who left me hate comments. I do not get by in life by harming people and intentionally trying to create emotional wounds. People don’t leave harassing comments if they feel fulfilled. My therapist told me that these men are reacting out of fear. They’re misogynists who feel themselves losing their power and they’re lashing out. I’m not afraid of change and am ready for the direction the world is moving in. I have the advantage and while they may try to look tough and stronger than me through violent words and/or actions, I’m stronger than them. Sexual assault is all about power. No secure person feels the need to constantly reinforce their power. I choose to lift people up even when I feel down instead of dragging them down with me.

I am strong. You are too. We’re in this together and it will get better.

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