In the last year, many women and men have spoken up publicly about being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed. From Hollywood to the White House and into your community, also very close to home, sexual abuse is a horrible trauma-inducing invasion of one’s personal space, sense of agency/control and will often erode trust. It is essentially an abuse of power and for victims and survivors, as well as loved ones, recovery may be difficult. Among other emotions, the negative self-talk, doubt, shame and guilt felt by those who have experienced such traumas make the healing process difficult—-but not impossible!! Believe this:
You are worthy of respect from others, and worthy of self-respect; your life is worth it; you deserve happiness and you can recover! You deserve to live your best life! It is never your fault and never was about you! Your payback, your revenge is your recovery! That IS about you. You are NOT alone.
Trauma has no boundaries with regard to age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, geography or sexual orientation. It can happen anywhere and although many people who experience a traumatic event will go on with their lives without lasting negative effects, others will have more difficulty and experience traumatic stress reactions. Research has indicated that with appropriate supports and interventions, people can overcome traumatic experiences. Unfortunately most people go without these supports. Unaddressed trauma significantly increases the risk of mental and substance use disorders and chronic physical diseases.
Children and families in child welfare, young people in school settings, juvenile and criminal justice systems, and men and women who serve in our military can have histories of trauma and sexual abuse. Veterans of all backgrounds have had unwanted sexual experiences during their military service or at other times. Because of this, public discussions about these topics may bring up painful memories and feelings. Even if you think the public discussion is a good thing, it may still be difficult.
Common Reactions to the Public Discussion
You may notice more sudden, strong emotions; images of your own sexual assault or sexual harassment experiences; trouble concentrating; poor sleep or nightmares; feeling helpless, anxious, or depressed; or other changes. This is normal, and it does not mean there has been a setback in your recovery.
Remind yourself it is okay to feel upset.
It is very normal to have more struggles than usual, and you may need to spend more time doing things that help you support and care for yourself. You might consider downloading a smartphone app that teaches coping strategies. See examples at the LINK VA App Store.
Limit exposure to media.
Notice how the news or social media stories are affecting you, and if need be, limit how much you look at them. You can also focus on reading the stories that give you hope or make you feel supported, and avoid the rest.
Spend time with people you enjoy. This helps everyone get through tough times. Even if you do not tell others about your own experiences of sexual assault or sexual harassment, it can still help to be with others. You can say, “I’m having a rough time right now,” without sharing details if that feels right. Or, you can spend time with someone without telling them that you are struggling.
There are many resources available to you:
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network* (RAINN) carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
- DoD Safe Helpline. provides confidential one-on-one assistance for individuals who have experienced military sexual trauma, rape, or domestic violence. Call or text 1-877-995-5247 to talk with someone 24/7.
- Free VA Services for Veterans who have experienced MST(regardless of whether they have a VA disability rating).
- Every VA health care facility has a MST Coordinator who can answer any questions Veterans might have about VA’s MST-related issues and help Veterans access VA services and programs.
- Find VA PTSD Treatment programs with your PTSD Program Locator.