How to cope when sexual assault news dominates headlines

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It’s been a heavy few weeks of sexual violence allegations leaking out of Parliament. The Feed spoke to an expert and advocate about how survivors can manage the trauma and how the media can better report these issues.

Allegations of sexual assault have been swirling around Parliament for weeks, rightfully shattering the ‘what happens in Canberra, stays in Canberra’ trope. 

But the seemingly never-ending stream of stories about sexual assault may be triggering for some, according to advocates and experts.

Karen Hogan from Sexual Assault Services said she’s spoken to survivors who are pleased issues of sexual assault “are being taken seriously.”

However, she said the perpetual reporting of these allegations could induce trauma for some survivors.

“It’s not just on the TV or on the radio anymore. With social media, it can feel like it’s everywhere,” Ms Hogan told The Feed

“Some survivors might not have told anybody about what’s happened to them and this can be challenging,” she added.

Brittany Higgins is seen with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the lead up to the 2019 election.
A file photo Brittany Higgins in the lead up to the 2019 federal election.
SBS News

In the past few weeks, Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, and several other women, have come forward and alleged they were raped by a senior Liberal staffer.

Following these allegations, an anonymous letter was sent to several members of Parliament last week, alleging a 16-year-old girl was raped in 1988 by a man who is now a Minister in the federal government.

NSW Police announced their investigation into the matter was closed yesterday, with the woman having taken her own life last June.

Dr Michael Salter is an expert in child sexual exploitation and gendered violence at the University of NSW.

He said in the past few weeks there’s been a sense of hopelessness among survivors that victims of sexual assault are being abandoned by various authorities.

“We're hearing accounts of women who have reached out, who have spoken out, who have not been supported,” Dr Salter said.

“This is profoundly delegitimising for people's faith in authorities, their faith in government and their hope that justice will be served."

Parliament Canberra
Various allegations of sexual assault have swirled through Parliament House over the past few weeks.

How can journalists cover these issues responsibly? 

Sexual survivor and Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, was applauded for her speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday.

In it, she highlighted that it takes on average 23.9 years for a survivor to find the courage to speak up because of shame.

She suggested journalists ask survivors “what can we learn from what’s happened to you” instead of “instructing and demanding certain details.”

Sexual assault survivor and Australian of the Year Grace Tame during her Press Club address.
Sexual assault survivor and Australian of the Year Grace Tame during her Press Club address.

Dr Salter said the media must use dignity as its guiding principle when it comes to sexual violence. 

“I think there are ways to frame stories in such a way that you don't detract from the facts of the matter but nonetheless lend dignity to all parties who are involved.”

Dr Salter said the role of senior female journalists in Canberra’s Press Gallery has been crucial in bringing important allegations of sexual violence to light.

Feeling uneasy about these stories? Here’s what you can do

It’s important for survivors of sexual violence to know that “they don’t have to go it alone”, Ms Hogan said.

“If the news is affecting you, switch it off. Limit your exposure and don’t hesitate to reach out to support services or someone you trust to talk about it,” she added.

And as the news becomes table talk, Dr Salter suggested treading carefully when it comes to sensitive topics.

He said if you’re talking to a group of five people, statistics suggest that at least one of those people will be a survivor of sexual trauma.

“It's just important to recognise that there is no group in Australia that is immune from the impact of sexual violence,” Dr Salter said.

“When we're talking about sexual violence, we have to have in the back of our head, the awareness that we are potentially speaking to a survivor or survivors,” he added.

However, Dr Salter said despite the triggering effect stories of sexual assault can have on some survivors, they are often important and empowering to tell.

“We don't want these stories to be private and we don't want survivor voices on social media to be private,” he said.

He added depending on a survivors’ stage of recovery, they may have a greater or smaller window of tolerance for exposure or the capacity to tell their story.

“It’s important for survivors to be in touch with those feelings and to make an informed decision about how much media they consume.”

Contact Lifeline, Australia’s leading suicide prevention service, on 13 11 14 or visit

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000.