The impact of media coverage on abuse survivors and their families
The widespread media coverage of Cardinal Pell’s conviction can bring up powerful and contradictory feelings in survivors of abuse and their families. This coverage can affect not only survivors of clerical abuse, but also those who have experienced other forms of sexual abuse and sexual assault.
For many survivors and their families, the reporting of Pell’s conviction may help resolve feelings associated with their own experience of being silenced, or fear of not being believed or supported.
Yet coverage of the abuse, especially explicit accounts, can also bring up painful memories. The coverage may trigger memories of a survivor’s own experience of abuse. It might bring up memories of reporting the abuse and not being heard, or memories of the devastating impacts of abuse on a family member.
Media coverage may also increase feelings of grief, injustice and anger, particularly when news report include conflicting messages about the truthfulness of witnesses, the verdict, the severity of child sexual abuse and its consequences for survivors.
This can impact on survivors’ willingness to seek support from the justice system, health providers, and family and friends.
“Research shows that on average, it takes more than a decade after the abuse has ended for survivors to tell someone about what happened to them. Negative stories around the reporting of abuse and seeking justice may reinforce the stigma experienced by many survivors.”Anne-Laure Couineau, Director of Policies and Services at Phoenix Australia
For others, the uncertainty around the final outcome of legal proceedings will be distressing. As the media covers a drawn-out legal process, survivors and their families may find it difficult to cope with the lack of resolution, provoking feelings of anxiety about their own future, or a growing sense of injustice.
How can you help yourself or someone you care about?
Signs that may indicate you (or someone you care about) may not be coping with the media coverage may include:
- following closely the details of the court case and finding it hard to stop
- feeling intensely anxious and distressed every time you encounter the media coverage
- withdrawing from people, or no longer doing things that you usually enjoy
- finding yourself constantly thinking about the case or your own experiences of abuse, with memories of what happened to you or your loved one haunting you more than they used to.
What you can do or encourage others to do:
- If you are repeatedly checking the news, set yourself a limit on the amount of news you view
- Spend time with people you care about, even if you don’t want to talk about what you are going through. Sometimes you will want to be alone, and that’s OK too, but try not to become too isolated.
- Talk about your feelings with someone who will understand. You can go into as much or as little detail as you are comfortable with. Sometimes it can be enough to let people know that the news coverage is affecting you and ask for their support.
- If you feel yourself withdrawing from your usual activities, try to get back to your normal routine as soon as possible, but take it easy. Don’t throw yourself into activities or work in an attempt to avoid painful thoughts or memories. Try to include activities that are enjoyable and remind you of what is important to you. These can be as simple as relaxing with a cup of tea, or making time to play with your children.
- Try to avoid using drugs or alcohol to cope, as they can lead to more problems down the track.