Women and Sexual Trauma Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men are.…
How Some Women With Trauma May Be Triggered by the ‘Me Too’ Campaign
By Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, Trauma Therapist at The Ranch
Andrea is a professional woman with a family and she considers herself a supporter of women’s rights. But when the revelations of sexual misconduct were revealed and the “Me Too” movement spread on social media, she felt a sense of discomfort and dread.
“I spent the last 10 years trying to forget what happened to me,” she told a friend. “And now it’s in my face again.”
Within weeks, sexual misconduct became a lead story in the news as more men in power were accused by women of harassment. Andrea had been date-raped in college and had experienced many unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. She hated that behavior so she couldn’t understand why she didn’t feel more liberated and happy that the truth about sexual misconduct was finally being revealed.
The silence-breakers of the “Me Too” movement were selected as Time’s “Person of the Year.” And, as Time reported, the movement continues to pick up momentum.
Does the ‘Me Too’ Movement Trigger Trauma?
For many women who have been hurt, deterred from success and satisfaction due to sexual harassment, the acknowledgment of misconduct has helped set them free from the pain and the shame of their own experiences. But is “Me Too” a liberating forum for every woman? Can the movement, in fact, trigger trauma? Yes. And the needs of women impacted must be accounted for as well.
Some women may be re-triggered by the stories of abusive men and the women who were victimized. And they may find themselves reverting to maladaptive behaviors, if they do not have the proper support.
Why Some Women Are Triggered
Women who experience sexual harassment in the workplace may have been harassed or sexually abused when they were younger. It is, for some, a continuation of a painful pattern of being in situations where their boundaries were crossed. It’s in this way that the “Me Too” movement can trigger trauma.
Early sexual abuse
Women who were sexually abused as children carry a great deal of trauma. Some have been working on healing for many years and have a great deal of support. Others are not as lucky. When early trauma has not been acknowledged—or a woman is unaware of how she was traumatized as a child—she is vulnerable to being triggered by a public campaign about sexual abuse because it can stir many feelings and memories.
Adult abuse or rape
If someone was raped or experienced sexual misconduct as an adult, the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the news, and all over social media, can be upsetting because it stirs up unwanted remembrances of a devastating experience. It can make a woman feel as if she is reliving it all over again.
Trauma reporting an abuse
If someone had a difficult time reporting sexual abuse or harassment―or if they have been ignored, belittled or have not been believed by authorities―they may still feel traumatized by the experience. This can make them less open to hearing other women’s stories. They might even see other women as having an easier time of sharing their stories.
Prior trial or media coverage
Someone who has gone to trial with a rape, abuse, harassment case, or has been part of a story that has had media coverage, may feel very uncomfortable with the current news stories being shared. Again, this triggers memories and pain.
Male work environments
For women who work in male-dominated professions, such as the military, police force or fire department, sexual harassment has long been an issue. Though many women have found the courage to speak up, it can be extremely stressful to feel pressured to do so in those kinds of organizations and hearing the stories of others can be triggering or can even create a sense of guilt.
The desire to leave it behind
Sexual abuse or being a victim of a sexual offense can define someone’s life and sometimes they are at a point in their healing where they just do not want to think about it every day. They may have worked hard to release it from their mind, and news media and social media keep bringing it up again.
History Is Stirred by Current Events
The “Me Too” movement is a new phenomenon and it’s an important one. But more people need to be educated about the prevalence of sexual abuse and about how abuse keeps happening, over and over again, in one form or another.
Some women are part of a long line of female family members who have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Each generation deals with boundaries that are broken in some way. The dysfunction or the abuse could be an intergenerational vulnerability, and may be passed from mothers to daughters or exists somewhere in the family tree.
With this in mind, it is easier to see that if someone is abused by their parents, babysitters or a priest. It then gets into relationships in the workplace that replicate some of those behaviors, and sets off a whole string of events in that person’s life. Falling prey to someone who has power over them can be part of the way history repeats itself.
If the experiences of childhood haven’t been resolved or haven’t been worked on, it is easy to get triggered with what’s going on in the media. It can cause a woman to relive it all over again. It has a psychological domino effect; all the old memories can come rushing back and life can come falling down.
Difficulties in relationships and home life, along with issues of substance abuse, can exacerbate the situation. The risk of substance use can be a particular issue so reaching out for support and pursuing therapeutic help is always advised.