How To Get Through The Kavanaugh Allegations News Cycle If It's Triggering For You

by Alexandra Svokos
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With sexual assault allegations leading the news cycle yet again in the Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, it's a tough time to try to remain an informed individual — especially for survivors of sexual assault. Bustle spoke with several experts about how to get through the Kavanaugh allegations news cycle for information on how you can cope, as well as how you can help your friends out.

Kavanaugh's confirmation seemed all but sure until allegations of sexual misconduct arose. First, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to sexually assault her at a party when they were in high school. Kavanaugh "categorically and unequivocally" denied the allegation to the Washington Post. Ford agreed to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday.

Remember that you're in control of what you watch and read, and you don't owe it to anyone to be familiar with these news stories.

Over the weekend, a second woman came forward. This time, Deborah Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at a party when they were at Yale University. Kavanaugh told the New Yorker that this allegation "did not happen."

All together, this means sexual violence will continue to be a major news item, complete with push alerts, tweets lacking nuance, uncomfortable conversations, and lots of opinions that could be promoting harmful myths — especially as the news surrounds a partisan issue with political agendas to promote (i.e. getting a conservative-leaning justice on the Supreme Court while the Congress has a Republican majority). If you're not feeling good about the news cycle, you're not alone, and there are coping mechanisms and productive things you can do to get through it.

Yes, There Is An Impact

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All of the experts agree that a news cycle like this one can have a significant impact. Sexual assault can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and "other anxiety-related symptoms," Dr. Tonya Chaffee, an adolescent medicine physician in California and faculty with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells Bustle in an email. Symptoms are exacerbated by a variety of things, including hearing stories and conversations about sexual assault, and because of this, Chaffee says, a news cycle can be "very triggering."

"Seeing sexual violence in the news can prompt negative reactions, from flashbacks and anxiety to feelings of sadness and irritability," Sara McGovern, press secretary for RAINN, tells Bustle in an email. Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, adds that the news can also impact people who are not survivors with triggers and secondary trauma, which comes from hearing others' stories and is particularly prevalent among friends and families of survivors as well as professionals whose work includes a focus on sexual assault (including therapists, social workers, reporters, and health care providers).

However, Palumbo tells Bustle, it's OK to feel affected. "Healing is not linear. There are highs and lows for all of us along this journey, and the fact that you may be feeling triggered or unsettled is in no way a definition of your overall progress," she says.

You're Allowed To Take A Break

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"Remember that you're in control of what you watch and read, and you don't owe it to anyone to be familiar with these news stories. If you're feeling upset or angry, take a break from the news and spend time on an activity that you enjoy," McGovern says.

"It can feel as though you’re not being an engaged citizen when you’re actively working to ignore the news, but that is something that can help preserve you during a news cycle where there’s just going to be a lot of attention on this issue," Palumbo says. "It’s OK to take care of yourself; it’s OK to take breaks from the news and from social media."

There's No "One Size Fits All" Form Of Self-Care

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There are some things you can do for self-care aside from avoiding the news (especially news that repeats stories in detail). Most standardly, Chaffee notes, you can go to counseling. If therapy seems unaffordable for you, this is a good guide for possible options. If you can't get to counseling or don't feel it's necessary, there are other things you can do in your daily life to take care of yourself. First, you should also do what you can to stay well-rested and fed — and simple things like doing extra steps in your daily routine (see: face masks) can help, Palumbo says.

Palumbo also suggests finding a strategy that works for you, whether it's a breathing exercise or meditation you can do anywhere, talking to a friend, or something more active like painting or exercising. "Anything that can help you start to feel grounded or coming back into your body" works, she says, and it's not "one size fits all."

How To Help Your Friends

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If you are not a survivor yourself and feel able to help a friend who is, "it’s a great opportunity for you to show up as a part of the support system," Palumbo says. To do so, Chaffee suggests, "Listen and provide support, and acknowledge that all survivors need to be allowed the time and space to share their stories when and how they chose."

To that end, Palumbo says, "It may not be helpful to directly ask someone how they’re dealing with the topics in the news — it might be most helpful to just make yourself available to them, like letting someone know you’re thinking about them and that you’re always happy to talk." Let them know it's OK to have their feelings, Palumbo says, and encourage them to do something for their self-care ... and don't judge if their version of that is "chocolate cake and watching a Netflix series." Boston University's Student Health Services put together a useful set of guides here for talking to survivors, if you want more insight.

Additionally, this is an opportunity for you to speak up in conversations with others, especially when they're throwing around language that diminishes experiences and perpetuates victim-blaming and harmful myths about sexual violence. If you'd like more information for conversations, RAINN put together a list of talking points, including data, here.

For The Teens Out There

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The conversations around Kavanaugh can be especially troubling for young people, who are hearing from some that sexual assaults that happen as a teenagers don't matter in the long-term. "Young people often feel left out of that conversation," Palumbo says, adding that this was also true of #MeToo, which focused heavily on adult workplaces.

"It is imperative for young people to know that all harassment and abuse is a serious problem and that it’s never acceptable to excuse inappropriate behavior just because of someone’s age, their gender, their status, the sports they play, their popularity. None of that is OK," she says. They can believe that, Palumbo argues, if they see people suffering consequences.

"Talk to adults in your life who you trust and can share your feelings about regarding this particular issue and seek help if you are a survivor of sexual assault, as you are not alone," Chaffee says. "There are many people who can help and support you."

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit