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Challenges for Survivors: Watching Movies and Television Shows

Challenges for Survivors: Watching Talkshows

Movies and TV shows that show rape, sexual assault, incest and child sexual abuse can be very difficult for survivors to watch. Use the suggestions here to make your TV and movie-watching experiences safer.

What kind of reactions might a survivor experience while watching movies or TV shows that show scenes of sexual assault?

  • Negative reactions can include
    • Sadness
    • Anger
    • Anxiety
    • Panic attacks
    • Flashbacks
    • Depression
    • Irritability
  • Sometimes a survivor could have more positive reactions to seeing this kind of content.
    • Feeling validated
    • Learning new ways of coping
    • Feeling connected

Why do movies and TV shows trigger such strong emotions?

  • They frequently deal with topics that are especially relevant to survivors
  • They often portray graphic scenes of sexual assault or abuse that may call up painful memories for a survivor.
  • A survivor might not be prepared to see scenes of sexual assault, especially if that is not the main focus of the movie or TV show.
  • Some movies or TV shows sensationalize survivors’ experiences and emphasize their trauma without showing any of their healing process
    • For most movie and TV show producers, the first priority is to entertain, which means that they don’t always focus on making an accurate portrayal of sexual assault and recovery

How can I avoid having problems if I choose to watch movies or TV?

  • Do your homework!
    • Many TV shows have a blurb in the TV Guide or other publications that will let you know what to expect.
    • You can find movie reviews in the newspaper or online. Often (but not always) the review with mention especially graphic or upsetting content.
    • Pay attention to the ratings (G, PG, PG-13, etc.), which are usually accompanied by a brief description of the reason for the rating.
    • If the movie or TV show has content that may be hard for you to handle, consider not watching it, or watching it at a time of your choosing, rather than at its scheduled time.
  • Ask yourself whether or not you really want to watch this movie or TV show. It’s easy to get caught up in a routine of watching TV or movies just because they’re on. If you’re not interested in the TV show or movie, consider skipping it.
    • Don’t watch something just to prove that you can handle it.
  • Watch movies or TV shows that have upsetting content when you feel prepared to deal with those scenes. Do not let anyone rush you into watching something you do not feel prepared to watch.
  • Monitor your viewing.
    • Don’t watch something just because it’s on. Limit your viewing by only watching TV shows and movies that really interest you.
    • Avoid channel-surfing. If you’re just flipping through the channels, you’re more likely to be caught off guard by material that could be upsetting.
    • Consider renting movies with content that might be upsetting, rather than watching them in theaters.
  • One of the advantages of watching movies and TV at home is that you have control over when you watch. If you’re watching a show and you find that you’re getting upset, it’s okay to turn the TV off and find something else to do!
    • Take a walk or go to the gym (exercise can be a great way to dispel feelings of anxiety and depression)
    • Call a friend or family member to talk
    • Write in a journal or diary.
  • Don’t sit in front of the TV all day!
    • It’s possible to get very over-stimulated by watching TV continuously.

Remember that you do not have to watch TV shows or movies.
Watch because you want to watch, not because you feel like you have to or because watching TV has become a habit!

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