ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. >> Noelle Rose Andressen was raped by her grandfather as a toddler. As an adult, she thought she’d successfully dealt with the trauma, having gone through years of therapy. A professional dancer, she even choreographed a performance about sexual abuse to process her feelings.
But when sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein exploded in October, followed by the barrage of claims against powerful men, Andressen became overwhelmed. The old feelings of fear, shame and anger resurfaced — especially when she watched news or read the endless stories posted on social media.
“I had to deactivate my personal Facebook account for a little while,” said Andressen, who splits her time between New York and Los Angeles. “I love everybody but I need my space. I know how much I can take, and I try to keep myself in a protective bubble.”
Since the Weinstein allegations, dozens of men have been publicly accused of sexual abuse and harassment. For women who have been raped, abused and harassed, each day is a fresh hell, as unnerving headlines and stories seep into daily life. Memories of past abuse, previous encounters with inappropriate co-workers, even lingering doubts as to how long-ago personal situations were handled have left women feeling raw, vulnerable and on edge.
“Retraumatizing is kind of the only word that really fits,” said Samantha Field, a 30-year-old writer who has been assaulted by five different men. “It’s difficult watching all of this.”
The Maryland woman has penned articles for online publications on the effects of sexual harassment and assault. She said she was once assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, and a few years ago, an older man in Field’s parents’ church kissed her on the mouth without asking. Writing about the violence against women means she’s developed a protective layer to discuss the topic professionally, but the past few weeks have ratcheted up her stress level.
“I’ve spent the last couple of years making progress, seeing a therapist, making a lot of steps forward. It’s a struggle not to let yourself despair,” she said.
Then came allegations against Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat whom she’d admired.
“He was the one that kind of did me in. I broke down sobbing in the shower,” she said.
After the Franken stories, Field changed her news and social media diet. She no longer reads the comments section on Facebook posts, and she turned off news push notifications on her phone.
“I set aside a time in my day that’s for keeping up with the news, mentally armoring myself,” she said. “I’ve sectioned it off as a part of my day, as opposed to just absorbing the news all day.”
It’s common for people to feel powerful emotions because of the avalanche of news, said Shari Botwin, a licensed clinical social worker in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“People are very triggered, whether in a good way or in a negative way,” she said. “People are having more flashbacks, getting more depressed, they end up reliving it. For some, it’s a good thing, it motivates them to get help. For others, they’re staying quiet.”
It’s not just depression, either. Botwin said that some victims — especially those who have been harassed at work — feel it’s unfair that privileged women are able to speak out against their harassers and have the media’s ear, while women in regular jobs are forced to endure more of the same.
For some, the stories are indicators of change, signals that women are finally being heard.
Dawn Skillen, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom in Jacksonville, Florida, was molested by a babysitter’s father when she was 5 and experienced sexual harassment when she was in the Navy. Prior to this year, she didn’t dwell on the past.
“I don’t think about what happened to me. In my mind, I’m tough, I could handle it,” she said. But story after story eroded that strength, and when one of her favorite actors, Kevin Spacey, was accused of attacking teens and young men, anger surfaced.
“It ruins lives. You can’t ever get that security or innocence back. You hurt for everybody,” she said. “I think people don’t realize, when one person speaks out, it emboldens you. It’s not an ‘I’m going to jump on the bandwagon,’ it’s more of an empowerment.”
Andressen hopes this is a moment where individually and collectively, women will find their voices. In a video for a performance that’s about her abuse, Andressen speaks to the camera as a scarlet, satin ribbon slips off her wrists.
“You will find your strength. You will find your hope. You will share your story,” she says in the video. “You have much left to do. What was meant for evil, shall be redeemed for good.”