The day after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before congress about her experience of sexual violence in relation to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) received the highest number of calls in its 24-year history. More than 3,000 people connected with the network on September 28, part of a record-breaking increase in the number of survivors of sexual violence requesting services since the #MeToo movement began last year.
The outpouring of truth and support has been unprecedented. As countless survivors finally see their experiences reflected in the national conversation, we feel a moment of hope for renewed connection and healing. But this hope is accompanied by pain, as many survivors who do come forward experience backlash. Additionally, survivors have been increasingly exposed to potentially triggering, and seemingly inescapable news around recent, high-profile incidents sexual violence.
Sexual Violence Affects Every Aspect of Survivors’ Lives
From street harassment to sexual abuse, all forms of nonconsensual sexual attention can have a negative effect on our mental health. Sexual objectification, or any act that dehumanizes us through our sexualities, can make us anxious, increase our risk of depression, and decrease our comfort in our bodies, leading to increased risk of eating disorders. Survivors of sexual violence face substantial mental health barriers, with 20% of rape survivors developing PTSD.
These negative mental health effects impact all aspects of survivors’ lives. Street harassment, for example, makes us alter our paths through the world, limiting where we feel safe. Sexual violence, meanwhile, costs us more than just our wellbeing: between health bills and lost time at work, survivors of sexual violence suffer an average lifetime financial burden of $122,461. Meanwhile, people who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their adolescence obtain 0.5 years less education than people who have never experienced IPV.
In the face of this very concrete harm to survivors’ wellbeing, caring for our mental health through social support, wellness, and therapy is vital. Psychological research shows that positive and affirming social support is crucial in helping survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence heal. Meanwhile, survivors with an increased sense of empowerment have a reduced risk of being victimized in the future.
Despite its more recent appropriation as a form of pampering, the concept of “self-care” actually originated among feminists, rights activists, health workers, and other people who experienced trauma as part of their work, or simply as part of living in an unjust world. Self-care was a way for them to assert their value in a society that devalued them. For survivors of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault — and for all women, who experience sexism in our everyday lives — nurturing our mental health is self-care in this original, revolutionary sense. Caring for our mental health is an act of courage and a commitment to our own thriving. As #MeToo continues, it’s more important than ever.
We’re in It Together
It seemed like every time I opened my computer to get started on this article, another #MeToo revelation crossed my social media feed. I’d get another message from a friend struggling with their own memories, or I was hit with another memory of my own. With so many people in our lives sharing pent-up trauma, it can feel like there’s no one to turn to for support. Yet in reality, the pervasiveness of #MeToo is precisely its strength: we are in this together.
If the news has you feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. There is no “right way” to be a survivor or to deal with whatever you’re feeling right now. Instead, it’s important to care for yourself, exactly the way you need to. If that means turning off the news entirely, that’s perfect. If that means sharing your experiences publicly, that’s great, too. Caring for yourself is an act of courage — whether you march in the streets, talk to an online therapist, or cuddle up in bed.
And while every survivor is different, the #MeToo moment has shown us one truth that applies to everyone: no matter who you are or what you’ve experienced, you are not alone.
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment, violence, or abuse, you deserve support and care. The below hotlines and resources can help.
You can call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline to get connected to a local RAINN-affiliated anti-violence organization for support: 800.656.HOPE (4673).
You can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime for support: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Love is Respect offers a 24/7 hotline for young people dealing with intimate partner violence: 1-866-331-9474.
The Anti-Violence Project offers a 24/7 hotline for LGBT people who have experienced violence or abuse: 212-714-1141.
1 in 6 has a 24/7 chatline for male survivors of sexual violence and abuse.
The Trevor Project offers a 24/7 hotline for LGBT youth: 1-866-488-7386.
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s suicide risk for any reason, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund offers learning and legal resources for women experiencing sexual harassment at work.