Yesterday, news broke that Met Police officer David Carrick admitted to being a serial rapist, with 24 counts of rape against 12 women over a 17-year-period.
The serving Metropolitan Police officer is believed to be one of the worst sexual offenders in modern history.
It was yet another horrifying event illustrating the current ‘epidemic of violence’ against women and girls in England and Wales.
The shocking revelation has shaken women across the country – many of whom are now questioning the police force and the entire UK justice system as they stand.
But, unfortunately, these violent headlines are becoming all too familiar for many women.
It follows on from the death of Sarah Everard in 2021 who was murdered by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, as well as the murder of Sabina Messa in the same year and Zara Aleena last year.
It’s clear violence against women is rife.
In fact, recent research shows that out of the 177 women who were murdered in England and Wales from 2020-2021, 109 were killed by a man.
For women reading these frightening headlines it can be really difficult to process and know how to act. Not to mention, how triggering they can be for those who have experienced violence themselves.
However, psychologist Emma Kenny also points out that anyone can be affected by this violence in the news.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s important to acknowledge that even women who haven’t been abused, or haven’t dealt with personal violence in their lives, can actually be traumatised though the media – so a “secondary trauma” can occur.
‘And it can be quite disconcerting if you’re an individual who hasn’t experienced violence, yet you feel anxious, scared or shocked – as I think a lot of people underestimate the experience of this secondary trauma.’
With the spotlight once again on the safety of women and girls this week, we asked experts how to cope with these triggering news stories.
How to cope when violence against women is in the news:
Try grounding techniques
If someone has been exposed to any kind of trauma, they are often very aware of the things that trigger their nervous system – and try to avoid them, as a result. This might be limiting news consumption, or avoiding certain places or situations.
But we can’t always avoid all these triggers – headlines are everywhere, after all.
Also, when we talk about triggers, they are not always the most obvious things.
Therapist and Counselling Directory member Crystal Luk-Worrall, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It can be a colour or a word that you’ve read from anywhere. You might experience an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, brain fog or memories and images popping up – and you can’t control them.
‘These are very common responses when your nervous system is triggered.’
To cope during with these stressful situations and physiological reactions, experts suggest grounding techniques, such as certain breathing excersies – like box breath.
Emma says: ‘Box breath is just inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding or four seconds, and breathing out for four seconds – and repeating for a few minutes.
‘It can help you get control of your breath, so you can get control of your body – and if you feel in control of your body, you feel more at ease.’
Another is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Emma explains: ‘Just think of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell, two things you can touch and one thing you can taste. This is bringing yourself back into your body.’
Another handy tip is to change your body temperature, like having an ice cold drink, says Crystal.
She adds: ‘It grounds you back to the present and you don’t feel like you are completely consumed by past experience.’
Write your thoughts down
Writing your thoughts down can be a really helpful way of unpacking your feelings, says Emma.
She continues: ‘Write things down and try and find out the commonality and what the trigger is. Usually this will be quite specific – it won’t be every form of violence against women.
‘Once you figure out that specific type of information you can track back to the memories and start to consider what happened, when it happened, and how it affected you – and this can help to try and diffuse those feelings.’
Take a ‘social justice holiday’ – and don’t feel guilty about it
As well as individual experiences and trauma that certain events may bring up, there’s also the wider picture of social justice and wanting to fight for fairness.
But Crystal says it’s important to look after yourself first.
‘It’s very hard to fight for the cause when you feel triggered or feel like you can’t think – it’s very important to look after ourselves first,’ she explains.
If you do feel like this, she suggests taking a ‘social justice holiday’ – in other words, a break from fighting for the cause.
She continues: ‘If you’ve found it’s hard for yourself to manage, give yourself a holiday – not an Ibiza holiday – a social justice holiday.
‘It doesn’t mean you’ve given up on the cause, it just means you’re looking after yourself – so, later on, you can do what you want to do.
‘Also, have faith in your allies. Just because you need to take a break in the fight doesn’t mean that everyone else is taking a break. We now have really good women’s rights allies and if looking up what they are doing online can help you feel more empowered to take a break from the cause then by all means do that.’
Look after your wellbeing
Crystal explains that, in psychology, there’s something called the ‘window of tolerance’ with how much stress we can individually manage.
She says: ‘The theory is, if you’re mentally generally well – and not too overwhelmed – then your tolerance level is higher.
‘Whereas if your life is generally quite stressful and overwhelming, then your tolerance is lower.
‘First and foremost look after yourself – and that looks different to everyone. It’s about knowing yourself and knowing what works for you.’
Crystal suggests making yourself a playlist for when you’re feeling low or stressed – and this will look very different to your everyday go-to music.
She adds: ‘It’s not a general feel-good playlist, it’s a playlist you put on especially for yourself in a very specific mood – just doing that piece of self-care work can make you feel grateful and better.’
How to look after yourself long-term:
Emma suggests the following for looking after yourself long-term:
- Accept your feelings and don’t feel shame in them.
- Get out in nature.
- Practice mindfulness physically – gardneing, walking etc.
- Practice mindfullness mentally – meditation, relaxtaion etc.
- Create coping strategies e.g. breathing techniques.
Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help
It’s only natural for our emotions for fluctuate, but experts say it’s important to know when to seek professional support.
Crystal explains: ‘The signs of someone needing professional support is if you are chronically feeling low, irritated or not motivated to do anything.
‘If you notice that in yourself- and you may not even know why (as a lot of these stresses can be subconscious) – but don’t put it off.’
Also, if you’ve experienced violence or abuse, Crystal and Emma suggests trying trauma-focused therapy like EMDR.
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