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“The media can be a great tool for increasing public awareness about sexual violence, but it can also pose challenges for some survivors. Portrayals of sexual violence in movies, television shows, the news, and social media can prompt negative reactions, from flashbacks and anxiety to feelings of sadness or irritability. Below are a few ways to help limit your exposure to media that could prompt these uncomfortable experiences.”
Movies and TV Shows
Movies and television programs that depict sexual violence can be part of dramatic plots, contain graphic scenes, or emphasize trauma over healing. Keep the following tips in mind to help navigate your viewing experience in a safe way.
- You are in control. You never have to watch something to prove you can handle it. If you go to a movie and find it upsetting, feel free to leave. If your favorite weekly television show includes a scene you find upsetting, it is ok to turn it off for five minutes. You don’t have to watch anything you don’t want to.
- Pay attention to the warnings. If you’re concerned a movie or television show might make you feel uncomfortable, read ahead. TV Guide blurbs, movie reviews, and explanations of ratings can give you a sense of the content. If you want to watch but are still a little nervous, plan to view in a space that feels safe for you, such as your home, rather than a crowded theater.
- Remember, this isn’t the whole story. Often, movies and television shows leave out the most critical part: the healing process. It can take a long time for a survivor to move forward—but that doesn’t necessarily make for entertaining content. Movies and television shows might emphasize the drama of the survivor experience over the positive steps forward.
Newspapers, magazines, and their web components can all report on instances of sexual violence. Usually these cases feature a high-profile person or expose a larger issue within an institution. Keep in mind these tips as you choose which stories to read and watch.
- You are in control of what you see. You don’t owe it to anyone to be familiar with these news stories. If a particular piece is upsetting, angering, or otherwise making you uncomfortable, you do not have to read it.
- It’s not just news. Even news outlets have to work hard to attract readers. These accounts might be graphic, sensationalize the crime, or even defend the perpetrator.
- People are going to react. Stories of sexual violence tend to prompt reactions from the public, who either agree or disagree with the allegations. It can be painful to read about people not believing a survivor’s story or the difficulties of a particular investigation. Remind yourself that these stories are not happening to you in this moment, and find comfort by talking to someone you trust. Try to avoid reading comments on online news stories related to sexual violence.
Social media allows people to publish their opinions publicly about current events, their personal thoughts, or even other people. Used the right way, social media can be part of a healing experience for survivors, but it also has the potential to cause negative reactions.
- You are in control of your social media experience. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, you can exit a window at any time. When posting on social media sites, explore privacy and viewing settings to control what information you share with others and what information is visible to you. If you are concerned about receiving or seeing messages that may negatively impact you, feel free only follow people or groups whom you know would not post negative or graphic content.
- Sharing is a double-edged sword. Many survivors share their stories online, either on personal blogs or by contributing to conversations through hashtags like #BeenRapedNeverReported. These outlets can give survivors a voice and help them move forward. Reading these stories might be inspiring, but it also runs the risk of causing anxiety or other unexpected feelings. Keep in mind you are not obligated to share your story publicly—that is a personal choice.
- Minors should be cautious. Reporting laws vary from state to state, but in some cases if a minor posts personally identifying information related to sexual abuse, the reader may have an obligation to report it. Learn more about laws in your state.
- Not everyone uses social media for good. Sometimes people use technology to hurt another person. They may engage with a survivor in a bullying, unsolicited, or non-consensual way. They could also belittle someone’s character or expose details of someone’s life that aren’t meant to be shared. This use of social media can leave the person on the other end feeling uncomfortable or scared. Visit online.rainn.org to chat with someone who is trained to help.
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.