The Imprints of Sexual Trauma: How the COVID-19 Pandemic May Trigger Survivors

By Molly Boeder Harris, Founder and Executive Director of The Breathe Network

Sexual violence is a trauma to the body with immediate and ongoing physical, mental, and spiritual impacts, many of which have been magnified for survivors in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a survivor, an advocate, and a Somatic Experiencing (SE) Practitioner who specializes in working with sexual trauma, this current crisis is a difficult reminder of the complex and lifelong imprint trauma leaves on the body and brain. For those working with survivors during this difficult time, it is vital to understand how survivors may be triggered by the parallel ways past experiences of interpersonal harm and the present threat of this deadly virus impact both the brain and body.

Survivors need people and practices that can empower them to navigate the enormous ocean of trauma recovery. The ways that COVID-19 can trigger and reactivate the lingering imprints of sexual trauma is a reminder of that. One of the most critical ways we can support survivors and their loved ones during this time is providing information that can empower them to understand the ways the body processes trauma and the various conscious and unconscious survival strategies that better enable us to survive difficult experiences. Difficult experiences like confronting a global pandemic are embedded with a number of elements with the potential to create trauma, and this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to encourage all those are committed to supporting survivors to focus on the ways in which these overwhelming experiences and their effects on our bodies and minds might overlap.

The following information describes the nature of trauma and how it may be resurfacing for survivors in this moment. I share this information as an invitation for all of us to pause and recognize the ways the COVID-19 pandemic is a collective experience of trauma. Whether you yourself are a survivor, working to support survivors, or both, deepening our understanding of trauma can guide us in caring for ourselves and healing through difficult times.

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National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2020

NSVRC provides research & tools to advocates working on the frontlines to end sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.