This article was first published as a post here.
- People who face sexual assault will experience some degree of trauma which, in many cases, can be severe. Yet most personnel in law enforcement, medical institutions, legal practice, mental health services (if available at all) and even feminists are still not trauma informed.
- Trauma and mental health issues following sexual assault are not an indicator of how well/poorly someone’s brain or body is functioning or how weak/strong they are. Trauma is a natural human response induced by external factors—assault, abuse, oppression, stress and inequality are the biggest factors.
- Trauma that follows sexual assault can severely impact a person’s daily life for weeks, months, or years. The time it takes for someone to progress in their healing depends on a set of social factors, their environment and on how much support they receive. Healing is harder for folks from marginalised castes living in India or BIPOCs living in white supremacist countries because the system is constantly re-traumatising them.
- Claiming that you support survivors of sexual assault only holds meaning if you know what trauma is and how it affects their lives. When diagnosed by health experts, the kind of trauma experienced after sexual assault is often called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress “Disorder”(feminist psychologists say it is wrong to call it “disorder” as it assigns fault to the person rather than social external factors).
- If you are unforgiving and judgemental when someone experiences triggers or memory/other lapses because of their trauma, your feminist praxis isn’t trauma informed. Learning to respect people’s triggers is important if they have admitted to you that they experience them after being sexually assaulted. It could be something as small as “I get triggered by silences on text/mail” or “I can’t be in an elevator” or something more obvious like reading news of sexual assault.
- Solidarity with survivors means making room for people’s triggers and other “lapses”. It means centring them rather than taking away their agency by telling them what they need, speaking on their behalf, or even worse, asking them to retreat from feminist spaces to rest. Continuing with your feminist activism while ignoring survivors creates marginalisation.
- Attacking survivors of sexual violence for “misbehaving” or calling them “crazy” when they are experiencing triggers is duplicating behaviours that led to women being labelled as mentally ill and subjected to fatal “treatments”, or being sent to mental asylums in the 19th century. Triggers can be hard to handle but they are harder for the person experiencing them. Learning about them will help you respond with more empathy.
- Deflecting the conversation with the refrain “it’s my trauma vs yours” is disingenuous. Using it as an excuse to put yourself first is dehumanising the other. Most people living with trauma themselves will make room for your triggers too if you are forthcoming about them and warn that they might occur. Saying “everyone is a survivor” or “everyone lives with trauma” when someone shares their experience of trauma or asks for concessions is invalidating their pain.
- People living with trauma find it hard to laugh, be optimistic, entertain, remain active on social media. If you notice that happening to a friend, don’t give up on them. Keep asking (gently) to see them even if they frequently refuse. They will get better with time especially if they aren’t isolated; if you keep showing them you are there. Most survivors say people “vanish” from their lives. This makes their recovery longer and harder.