The reality of trauma and language

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By: Megan Graves, Columnist

Did you know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness month? I know I talked about it last year, but I think it’s important to bring up each time April comes around. The purpose of this month is to call attention to sexual violence and to show solidarity with those who have survived it.  

This is a good time to reach out to the survivors in your life and let them know how strong they are. This month is important, and we need to continue to understand the facts surrounding sexual violence, but the conversations can be triggering.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those conversations. We need to be reminded of the statistics. We need to learn different bystander methods. And we flat out need to talk about the fact that sexual violence is real and far more common than any of us would like to believe.

I’m just sending out a reminder that even the words “sexual violence” can trigger unpleasant memories, feelings and emotional episodes within those who have experienced it.

Did you know that survivors of sexual assault can develop post-traumatic stress disorder? According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and The National Women’s Study, one out of three survivors will develop PTSD in their lives. Symptoms include recurring memories and/or nightmares, depression, intense, uncontrollable emotions, insomnia and panic attacks, just to name a few.

I know there’s been pushback against the idea of trigger and content warnings (stating that a form of content involves/discusses potentially distressing material prior to exposure of that content), particularly on college campuses. They’re necessary.

It isn’t that millennials are weaker than previous generations or can’t handle heavy material. We just have a better understanding, through time and research, of how much certain words, sentences or images can emotionally damage a person who has experienced trauma.

Simply offering a warning before a discussion can give students who need it a chance to mentally prepare themselves or choose not to be a part of it.

The point I want to get across in this piece is that we all need to be mindful of our language, actions and audience when we discuss sexual violence this month.

We must talk about it. We must educate ourselves and our peers. And we must do so while keeping in mind that statistically, one in five women will leave college having survived sexual violence.

This month, be aware of the prevalence of sexual violence. Be aware of how women feel existing in a world that lets attackers go free time and time again. Be aware of the toll that surviving trauma can take on a person, while understanding that different people heal in different ways. And above all, look out for your peers.

You might just make the world a little safer.

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