Coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as a sexual assault survivor

As April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month, it’s important to recognize how survivors are affected by COVID-19. One writer shares her experiences and offers hope.

TW: R*pe, COVID-19 anxiety, depression, mental illness, Title IX : Please take your time with reading this piece if you’re a fellow survivor. Stop at any time if it’s too triggering for you. Know that you don’t have to engage in this piece if it’s too triggering, take care of yourself first. 

On March 12, the WHO announced COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Like many other people, I was flattening the curve at home with social distancing. At the time of the announcement, I was already five days deep into my own social distancing practices. As a high risk person with congenital heart disease, I knew that staying at home is what I needed to do for my friends deemed essential, especially healthcare workers. 

This hasn’t been easy for myself as a two-time rape survivor as my healing has taken two steps backwards in the last three weeks. The uncertainty behind the pandemic has left my mental health in a shipwreck. 

And I know I’m not alone. Statistics show that 23% of Asian women experienced some form of sexual violence within their lifetime. But by social distancing, my mental health has paid the price. 

Back to square one

The past few weeks I’ve been in a deep depressive episode that I’ve slowly started recovering from with help from my therapist. Social isolation has made me feel stuck, as very few things are in my control right now. The world is in chaos around me, yet there’s nothing that I can do besides sit at home while writing this. This is my worst nightmare as a survivor. 

Social isolation mirrors the fears I first had when I came out about my rapes: fears of losing friends, people not talking to me, and my ultimate fear of being alone. The mounting fears have left me frozen at times throughout this week. 

Asian girl looks out a window. Black and white.
Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash

Most of my days in the last two weeks have been consisting of binge-watching The Bold Type to escape reality, cooking up new recipes I’ve seen on Bon Appetit, and attempting to stay away from scrolling through Facebook. Between cabin fever and low energy, sitting with my feelings has been the most difficult. 

Parallels in language

The news cycle as well as the language around this pandemic also contribute to my poor mental health. The news cycle mirrors that of the Weinstein trials, Chanel Miller’s case, and many more sexual violence cases. Scrolling through Facebook, I’ve seen a lack of trigger warnings from friends on the content within these pieces. 

Along with these articles, there are also alarmist comments regarding marginalized folks as disposable and comments without proper scientific evidence. As a queer Chinese-American survivor with a disability, these prevalent comments have affected me deeply as I’ve been made to feel less than. 

As a result of this constant toxic news cycle, my PTSD has flared up significantly. My foggy memory has reappeared and I sometimes forget the simplest of matters. Everytime I look at the news, horror and fear take over my body. Two weeks ago, I could barely eat anything without wanting to throw up because my body was soaking in the horror of the new reality. 

With my PTSD reemerging, I’ve engaged in self destructive behavior like reading alarmist comments thinking they’re real or concrete without evidence regardless if it’s the case or not. Thankfully, my parents have been supportive and given me space throughout this flare-up. However, that’s not the case for survivors whose families might be unaware of the traumas they’re currently facing. 

If this your situation, look into the free resources offered by sex educators, therapists, and non-profit organizations. Many are holding space for survivors in our current weird time. These folks will be able to guide you through what you’re feeling at this moment. 

Life on pause : Title IX

Title IX is a United States amendment granted in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination including sexual misconduct and harassment in schools that recieve federal funding from the government.

It’s a civil right that was fought for, yet as a couple days ago all survivor rights under Title IX can be rolled back at any moment during this pandemic. Title IXs across most colleges have been put on hold due to fear of community spread of the virus. 

Survivors like myself have been left in limbo never knowing if our assailants will be held accountable. Despite the fact that classes are remote, our cases are left on pause. This is inconsistent with what Title IX promised for survivors. On top of this, most major media outlets have been unusually quiet on the matter. 

Regardless of the push from some outlets and campus activism, Title IX has failed survivors yet again, especially during this pandemic. Our experiences and cases have been pushed under the rug with a vapid excuse, even as all other college functions are done online. 

As a result, survivors and advocates have come together to offer resources in place of where institutions are lacking.

Holding onto each other

As April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I’ve come together with fellow survivors to create spaces. I’ve been offering one on one donation-based peer support sessions, collaborating on a panel discussion around navigating systems as a survivor with sex educator Haley Hasen, and creating community with a fellow survivor Devi Jags by hosting a survivor circle. 

Three girls' silhouettes against a sunset.
Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

In my own time, I’ve begun to pursue trauma informed reiki for myself as well as survivors in the future. I’m working towards combining my love for sex education and reiki into a program to hold spaces for survivors. Although as this pandemic looms, I’m taking my mental health status one day at a time. 

In this time of uncertainty, I’m finding light in the community created by fellow survivors and advocates. These fellow survivors I’ve met through the magic of social media have given me hope and healing energy from holding space with each other. Likewise, holding space for those in my community has also been rewarding. 

Institutions might forget us, but we won’t ever forget each other. I hope throughout however long this pandemic lasts that my community will continue to hold space together, lean on each other for support, and heal together. 

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