If you’re a sexual abuse survivor, it can be difficult to not be retraumatized by the content you see online. You could be simply scrolling through your social media and suddenly be reminded of a traumatic experience by one sentence or one photo. Moreover, it’s alarming how several things could trigger such memories. For instance, rape culture is so common that you could find it all over the media, from the programs aired on TV to how political leaders speak. Moreover, rape is one of the most pervasive forms of violence against women in the country—chances are, you know more than one woman who has experienced some form of assault.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 2,162 rape cases were reported to the Philippine National Police last 2019, 30.6 percent higher than the 1,656 cases reported in 2018. However, there are a lot of cases that remain unreported. In a justice system that has a reputation of siding with abusers, many survivors have been to social media platforms to warn others about their abusers or to call for help. On Jun. 13, Frankie Pangilinan prompted a surge of survivors to speak up about their abuses through #HijaAko to denounce rape culture and victim-blaming. This empowered several survivors to speak, but the details of their stories can be alarming for those who still aren’t ready to face their trauma.
Reading so many stories online is difficult but necessary. We need to listen to what several women are going through in order to help them instead of suggesting counterproductive solutions.However, not everyone can easily read through stories about assault, and survivors of sexual abuse can find it overwhelmingly difficult. I asked my friend Jenny (let’s call her that for the sake of anonymity), a survivor of sexual abuse who’s outspoken and vocal about the need to end rape culture, how she’s navigating through social media with content that could possibly resurface her trauma.
“I see rape culture in all types of media. For my own mental health, I try to stay away from shows or films that might trigger me. If it’s on social media, I try to rant about it, like or rt posts that condemn rape culture & support victim-survivors of sexual violence,” she said.
The news in itself is already overwhelming and many already do suggest stepping away from time to time. For sexual abuse survivors, detailed stories about sexual abuse could trigger memories of their experience and experts suggest for them to watch out for this. According to psychology professor Elizabeth Jeglic, “the individual may feel as if they are back in the situation and their fight-or-flight response may be activated” resulting in an increased heart rate, panic and freezing up, among other symptoms.
Moreover, experts acknowledge the need to balance out disturbing content while keeping tabs with the news. Psychologist and Yale Professor Sarah Lowe told Washington Post that “there is an often-subtle difference between being aware of current events and unnecessarily exposing oneself to aversive details about them” and suggested to take a step back from content that could resurface trauma.
While I didn’t want to pry too much about her experience, Jenny shared with me that most of her triggers came from people invalidating the survivors who spoke up. One example of that is people dismissing their concerns by bringing up male rape, as if the fact that men are raped too means that they shouldn’t listen to women. “May one time na may sumagot na yung argument niya [is that] more men get raped, completely missing the point, jusko,” Jenny said.
Jenny also noted that too many people still view the survivors at fault. “I was also disappointed that a lot of people refused to listen to us victim-survivors and instead resorted to victim-blaming and slut-shaming.”
Despite the harsh reality of people invalidating their struggles, Jenny expressed that she admired the strength of all the sexual abuse survivors speaking up online.
“I am in awe of these women’s strength but at the same time, it hurts to think that there are far too many of us who have been violated and abused by others. It is a devastating reality. And what amazes me with the #MeToo, #HijaAko, and other similar movements, is that women, despite the pain, have found solidarity in their struggles.” she said. “For the longest time, women have been treated like objects and it is high time that people listen and educate themselves on the different ways we are dehumanized by this patriarchal society.”
#HijaAko already gives them the opportunity to be listened to, I think it’s a matter of people understanding the effort to speak up and accept that the blame isn’t on these girls. Jenny shared with me that despite the risk of retraumatization, she would engage with those speaking up online by retweeting their stories or quote retweeting against those invalidating them. While the internet remains to be a dangerous place to navigate through for survivors, Jenny left me with a message for other survivors of sexual abuse.
“There will be people who will question and invalidate your trauma but always remember that you are the only one who gets to decide if you were violated or not. Some people will also try to dismiss your pain and tell you to ‘let it go’ but know that your anger is valid. Most of all, be kind to yourself. Remember that whenever one of us speaks up, they immediately become the voice of so many others who have or continue to suffer in silence. Abante, babae!”