How To Deal With News About Sexual Assault When You’re A Survivor

Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

According to a therapist

In the last couple of years, we’ve been inundated with political news about sexual harassment and assault, but this type of news has reached a new frequency with Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, and his confirmation hearing and testimony have inspired tons of articles and reports, with sometimes graphic and thoroughly detailed accounts from victims.

Not only have I read these accounts, but also I’ve written many, as well as covered the horrific treatment his alleged victims have endured by Kavanaugh supporters—including the president. And it’s taken its toll on me, and likely on other survivors who are trying to stay informed without remembering some of their own trauma. 

With a news cycle like this, it’s not hard to feel like you have to put your mental health at risk in order to stay in the know. But it doesn't have to be that way: There are actually tools to use and things to do to avoid these incredibly painful triggers. I spoke with Sara Frischer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner from Union Square Practice, who had some pointers on how to navigate this kind of news cycle.

There are a few key things that may trigger unwanted memories, Frischer told me. There is no denying the bravery of what women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have done in recalling their personal accounts of sexual assault, but, Frischer tells me, "For survivors, especially those that have not spoken about their trauma [or] done any work to process it… hearing the accounts of the detailed sexual assault can be very triggering.” Hearing such in-depth allegations can echo one’s own past experiences with sexual assault, and can force people to relive that trauma.

Then also, the fact that the accusers’ stories are being either ignored or demeaned by many people in positions of power, can make survivors even more susceptible to their own trauma being triggered. Frischer described the reaction to Dr. Ford’s testimony, saying, “The validity of her statement is being questioned, and I think that's really where survivors struggle.” Speaking on Dr. Ford’s loss of memory surrounding her assault, Frischer says, “One of our greatest survival methods in a trauma is dissociation, and it protects us. So because we disassociate, we can't remember all of the content.” Frischer notes that this dissociation is “more common than not,” and that there are survivors who have the same experience. So, then, “A survivor witnessing that will make them question their own recollection of their memory and how they're experiencing the memories of their trauma.”

Further, it's important to note that many of the people in power, who are praising Kavanaugh and deriding Ford, have been accused of sexual assault as well. “So many members of the Trump administration, past and present, have been charged with so many offenses, and it just devalues the experience for the victims who are speaking out,” Frischer notes. “Which, in turn, is extremely triggering for survivors.” When they are shown, repeatedly, that speaking up doesn’t seem to have an effect on the lives of the accused, victims are more likely to internalize their own shame, which can later rear its head in harmful ways.

So what can a survivor do? When trying to navigate these news stories which may have a negative effect on your mental health, Frischer says that staying informed may not be possible. “The honest truth is that, for some people, staying informed is too much right now.” It’s not a sign of weakness to forego the rabbit hole of articles and phone notifications telling you the latest terrible thing that has happened. “I think it's even an admirable option to choose self-preservation and not be informed right now,” she says. Don’t damage your well-being just to stay on top of the news.

Of course, if the news is triggering your own trauma, it could be a sign that you need to seek help from a mental health professional. This is not always readily available or affordable, though, so Frischer shared some tips to help people cope on their own. These aren’t a substitute for seeking professional counsel, but they might help in moments of distress, or allow you to circumvent those triggering thoughts. 

First off, Frischer says, try your best to read the news instead of watching videos. “If the headline is something that's going to be triggering then just don't read the article,” she advises. “This also gives clients a little bit more control in getting their news information. So, if they're reading an article and something becomes triggering, before they get actively triggered, just stop reading.” Giving yourself more control over your news intake will allow you to have an easy way out if things become too much. Frischer also suggests having a close friend filter the news for you might help sideline the triggering effects. “Hopefully if it's a close confidant, they really know what would trigger you and could just give you information in a safer manner,” she notes.

Frischer provided some grounding techniques that she uses with her clients, and urges them to use at home. When seeing these news stories, she says, "Even if they didn't want the information, even if they weren't gathering it readily, then they can remind themselves of the positive things that have come out of this: All the people who have shared their stories, Dr. Ford's bravery." She encourages her clients to “place their feet on the floor, feel themselves in the chair, remind themselves that they're in the present moment.”

Frischer also tells me that, when people are triggered, it is because their sympathetic nervous system is activated, which results in a fight-or-flight reaction, causing things like increased heart rate and blood pressure. She suggests a couple of techniques that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which "promotes a sense of calm and relaxation." One way to do this is by applying cold water to the face. "It's actually best for clients to put their face in a bowl of ice cold water," she says, "but this can be adapted." She suggests putting an ice pack over the eyes, "making certain to cover [your] temporal regions" like the sides of the forehead. She notes that there are also towels that you can carry in your bag which can stay cool for 12 hours at a time.

She also suggests paced breathing, which she describes as "a breathing exercise where clients focus on their breath and make their exhalation longer than their inhalation." Breathing in for a count of five and out for a count of seven, for about five to 10 breathing cycles, can help tremendously. Frischer says to make sure you are seated comfortably while doing this, and "before starting the paced breathing, notice how [your] body is supported by the chair underneath [you], and how [your] feet are placed securely on the ground."

Other helpful resources Frischer suggests are RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, noting that “if someone is finding themselves triggered in the moment, they can actually call their 24-hour hotline.” There's also the Sidran Institute, which is actually a training institute but which has loads of resources on its website. "I send clients' family members there all the time," she says. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also provides resources and guidance.

But also, Frischer encourages us to remember all of the positives that are coming out of this news cycle: "This is a hard time, but also people are speaking out, and people are being super-brave and courageous, and hopefully more people are going to get help because of it.”

Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.