For the entirety of his campaign, Trump’s hate speech has targeted pretty much everyone who isn’t a white, cisgender male, but the recently leaked video in which he brags about sexual assault to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” has escalated things to the next level.
While it has sparked a positive movement of women coming forward about their own incidences of sexual harrassment and abuse, at the hands of Trump or otherwise, it’s also had a traumatizing effect on victims of sexual assault.
Representatives from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, (RAINN) told the Huffington Post that calls to their National Sexual Assault hotline increased by 33 percent in the weekend after the video was released, with a particular spike during last Sunday night’s presidential debate.
Shelley English, a mental health counselor and trauma specialist in New York, acknowledges the “retraumatization” effect Trump’s comments have had on victims, but feels optimistic about the dialogue it’s sparked.
“For sexual assault survivors, you can’t go back to the past and undo the damage of an assault, but you can be a person who’s experienced that and have a feeling currently as if, wow, people are actually listening, people actually care,” English says.
“It’s helpful if you can reframe it and look at it as a moment in time when our voices are being heard," she says. "Because being able to express it, for women who have buried it and their bodies are still holding that pain and that stress, it’s a chance to say hey, I’m letting this out—and then you can (begin to) heal.”
For any woman—or man—who has been triggered, she recommends they seek the help of a therapist, a trauma specialist, or call a hotline. "Communicate in a safe space, with a safe person—even a best friend.”
Finding support is crucial. It’s On Us, a campaign that encourages anyone to take a “pledge” on social media to show their commitment to helping stop sexual assault, "shows that other people care,” English says. “Or if you’ve been through it, you can be there for the next person. My philosophy has always been, if you’re hurting, go help someone else.”
For many, the constant barrage of the topic in the news cycle can be triggering.
Dr. Steven Graubard, a therapist at Thrive Works Boston, reminds us that we are in control, to some degree, of what we read or watch. "People go online to a newsfeed or a news site: they do that voluntarily. If [it's] going to be triggering, it's hard to do, but you've gotta consciously say, 'I'm not going to go on CNN today'," he says.
Additionally, RAINN has an online resource, "Tips for survivors on consuming media," which provides helpful suggestions for how to approach potentially triggering news and social media content, as well as movies and TV shows.
General stress relief techniques, such as mindfulness meditation and rigorous exercise, can help ground you when you start to feel out of control. "Being in a quiet space where you can close your eyes and simply allow yourself to focus on your breath helps people calm down," says Dr. Graubard.
In a campaign speech in New Hampshire on Thursday, Michelle Obama told the crowd, “I can’t stop thinking about this,” referring to Trump’s comments. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I could not have predicted.”
For support, call RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE.