As Jian Ghomeshi’s trial began Monday, February 1, 2016, the first of two sexual assault trials taking place in Toronto, we are beginning to see a rash of articles and think pieces about Ghomeshi’s career, about how the trial could be for the complainants, about sexual violence in Canada and rape culture, and about woman leading his defence team. The first complainant has courageously shared her testimony about the brutal violence she experienced by Ghomeshi. Her testimony is being shared in numerous articles and live blogs that are disclosing what is transpiring in the court room today.
When it comes to sexual assault, the Canadian legal system doesn’t have a very good track record. The conviction rate for sexual assault is one of the very lowest of all the crimes in Canada. There are a lot of women out there who aren’t believed. There are a lot of disincentives to report.
Recent stats indicate that women’s reports of sexual violence to police or legal systems have plummeted in large part due to women giving up on the legal system’s ability to provide a measure of justice in sexual assault cases.
Let’s face it, the media isn’t much better, doesn’t always do a good job reporting on violence against women in general and sexual violence specifically. A conference held recently in Toronto explored media reporting this video explores how media perpetuates victim blaming troupes and this resource was written for journalists urging them to Use the Right Words when reporting on sexual violence
What to do as we are about to be inundated with media and social media reports of this trial?
“During the first go-around of the Ghomeshi media machine. I felt unprepared. Like many others, I am bracing myself for what is sure at times to be a teeth-gritting, enraging, disappointing, frustrating, and heartbreaking process of awaiting updates, listening to analyses, and anticipating the trolls that are certain to emerge any time such a public case is discussed.” Lucia Lorenzi writes in rabble.ca
Here are a few options for self care and to deal with triggers:
- Assess and make decisions about how much media you want to take in.
- Set limits with people around you, friends, family, co-workers about talking about the trial.
- Make decisions to stay from social media generally or specifically the comments section on news sites on social media sites.
- Don’t assume everyone wants to discuss the trial. Give thought to what articles you share or if you share articles at all about the trial.
- If you’re experiencing strong responses to media and/or social media reports you may be having a flashback or otherwise being triggered.
- Remember, you can mute the #Ghomeshi tag if you need to. Take care of yourself.
What is a flashback?
A flashback is when memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment. That means it’s possible to feel like the experience of sexual violence is happening all over again. During a flashback it can be difficult to connect with reality. It may even feel like the perpetrator is physically present.
Flashbacks may seem random at first. They can be triggered by fairly ordinary experiences connected with the senses, like the smell of someone’s odor or a particular tone of voice. It’s a normal response to this kind of trauma, and there are steps you can take to help manage the stress of a flashback.
What helps during a flashback?
If you realize that you are in the middle of a flashback, consider the following tips:
- Tell yourself that you are having a flashback. Remind yourself that the actual event is over and that you survived.
- Take slow, deep breaths by placing your hand on your stomach and taking deep breaths. You should see your hand move out with the inhalations, and watch it fall in with the exhalations.
- When we panic, our body begins to take short, shallow breaths, and the decrease in oxygen can make you feel more panicked. Deep breathing is important because it increases the oxygen in your system and helps you move out of anxious state faster.
- Return to the present by using the five senses.
- Sight: Look around you. Make a list of the items in the room; count the colors or pieces of furniture around you. What do you see?
- Smell: Breathe in a comforting scent, or focus on the smells around you. What do you smell?
- Hearing: Listen to the noises around you, or turn on music. What do you hear?
- Taste: Eat or drink something you enjoy. Focus on the flavor. What do you taste?
- Touch: Hold something cold, like a piece of ice, or hot, like a mug of tea. What does it feel like?
- Recognize what would make you feel safer.
Wrap yourself in a blanket, or go into a room by yourself and close the door. Do whatever it takes for you to feel secure.
How to prevent flashbacks?
You may be able to take steps to prevent future flashbacks by identifying warning signs and triggers:
- Be aware of the warning signs.
Flashbacks sometimes feel as though they come out of nowhere, but there are often early physical or emotional warning signs. These signs could include a change in mood, feeling pressure in your chest, or suddenly sweating. Becoming aware of the early signs of flashbacks may help you manage or prevent them.
- Identify what experiences trigger your flashbacks.
Flashbacks can be triggered by a sensory feeling, an emotional memory, a reminder of the event, or even an unrelated stressful experience. Identify the experiences that trigger your flashbacks. If possible, make a plan on how to avoid these triggers or how to cope if you encounter the trigger.
Where to get help?
There is a relief that comes with the end of a flashback, but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-time occurrence. Flashbacks can worsen over time if you don’t address them.
Here is a list of resources where help is available:
In British Columbia
Lucia Lorenzi says it best:
“It is impossible tell what the outcome of the Ghomeshi trials might be. It is harder still to predict if and how these trials will achieve what so many promised they would: to create a “watershed” moment regarding sexual violence in Canada. I don’t know if Ghomeshi will be convicted. Knowing the absolute brokenness of the Canadian justice system when it comes to sexual assault cases, I am deeply skeptical of such an outcome. I don’t know if our conversations about sexual violence will change: but, if they do, it will certainly take more than the trials of one former Canadian media darling. Sexual violence is not unusual or exceptional. It is happening every day in Canada. Most perpetrators will never see a day in court. Most victims will never receive justice. I don’t know how to fix a broken system.
What I do know is that as Ghomeshi’s trials take place, we do need ways to approach these difficult conversations: to be mindful of ourselves, of others, and to make sure that talking about violence doesn’t become another form of violence in and of itself.”