The impact of the Sandusky trial on survivors of child sexual abuse
The following editorial was written by Heather Gunnell, the program director for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program.
The trial of Jerry Sandusky has brought the issue of child sexual abuse to the forefront of the media's attention and in turn it has opened many people's eyes to a frightening reality: this crime happens often, it happens in communities many would consider safe, and it can involve trusted adults and local heroes.
We cannot underestimate how difficult this time has been for the victims in the Sandusky case, and for all survivors of childhood sexual assault. If you are a survivor of sexual assault and you need support you can call our NH hotline 24 hours a day 1-800-277-5570.
The details of Sandusky's actions were disturbing. The Penn State case garnered national attention because of the status of the individuals and university involved, but we must not forget that there are thousands of children across the U.S. each year who are victims of child sexual abuse.
Now that the Sandusky coverage has ended it may fade from our consciousness, but for survivors of childhood sexual assault, this episode may have triggered painful memories. As the trial focused society's attention on the issue of sexual abuse, it is also inevitable that someone has said, or is going to say something (or not say something) that will send someone else into a spiral of anger, frustration, sadness, or even fear.
Triggers may be different for each survivor. What triggers each particular survivor depends on his or her unique experiences of being vulnerable and hurt, and the unique details of the situations in which those experiences occurred. Getting triggered does not give rise to a simple, uniform set of symptoms that can be easily labeled. If you find yourself struggling with more negative emotions than usual – anger, sadness, anxiety, bitterness, etc.; if you are noticing that things which normally do not bother you are becoming stressors; and/or if you find yourself pushing others away and wanting to be alone – these can all be signs that you might be upset and need to take some time to rest, reflect, and take care of yourself.
It's important to remember a few things: First, all of these emotions are normal reactions to having a painful subject discussed. Outside of the therapeutic environment, where these feelings can be processed, there is a higher risk that these emotions can be destabilizing. If you feel yourself getting triggered (e.g. if you are having strong emotional swings, feeling out of balance and unable to focus, and/or if you find yourself more irritable and moody) and do not have a therapist to process these feelings, you can call our New Hampshire hotline 24 hours a day 1-800-277-5570.
If you are in severe crisis or considering self-harm, call your doctor, emergency services (such as 911), or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For those of you who may know someone who has been through this, and who may now be struggling, it is important to know that the NH hotline is also available for you to call at any time. There are a number of resources available for you to begin to understand how to support the person you care about. The website 1in6.org has some very good information for people who are supporting survivors, including the following advice: "Our most important advice: take care of yourself, and don't push him. Why focus on yourself, not just on him and his needs? The better you take care of yourself, the more effectively you can support him. You'll be more able to take a break when you're getting overwhelmed, to manage feelings like anger and sadness, and to reach out for help when you need it. You'll also be a model of self-care for him, and more likely to stick with him (in a way that's healthy for you), even in the hardest times."