Rape Crisis Center explains why masks can be triggering for survivors of sexual assault

MADISON, Wis. — Mandatory mask mandates have been a topic of debate for weeks.

The Rape Crisis Center’s Senior Director of Client Services Dana Pellebon said some survivors of sexual assault may have a tough time wearing masks because it could mimic the experience of their assault.

“Normally, that’s not something people would think could be a trigger, but it can be a trigger for some people,” Pellebon said.

Pellebon said some survivors have experienced strangulation, had their mouths covered or heads forced into a position where they couldn’t breathe.

“How trauma works is that anything can bring up something that is reminiscent of the trauma that happened to you,” Pellebon said. “Wearing a mask can be problematic for some survivors just because of their experience in the past with what happened with their assault and their inability to breathe during that assault.”

She said internet shaming is placing an additional barrier on those who have personal reasons for not wearing a mask.

“With the proliferation of how shaming is working on the internet, it is a barrier to then go out to the store knowing that you may not be able to wear a mask in the same way, knowing that you may be confronted by people.”

Pellebon said survivors are dealing with it in different ways including not leaving the house, getting friends and family to do their shopping for them, some are just isolating. Pellebon says survivors are aware of the health and safety concerns that come from not wearing a mask but asks that people leave the enforcement up to those who are making the rules.

“Don’t confront people who don’t have masks on,” she said. “That’s not your job. If there is a store that’s requiring it, allow the store to take care of it.”

For those who are struggling with this issue, the Rape Crisis Center has a 24-7 hotline you can call to talk with someone. The number is 608-251-7273.