Rape Survivors May Find Face Masks Triggering, But They’re Still Getting Called Out

Survivors who had their faces covered during an attack may feel triggered when wearing masks

woman wearing a face mask
Not everyone who doesn't wear a face mask is a jerk.
Getty Images

There are a lot of bad reasons to not wear a face mask during a pandemic: Because you don’t feel like it, because it seems unmanly, because you don’t think there really is a pandemic, etc. But there are a few legitimate reasons to go sans mask, including being a survivor of a violent sexual assault to which mask-wearing can trigger flashbacks.

“A significant proportion of rape survivors had their mouths or noses covered, or were choked or smothered, as part of the abuse and violence they experienced,” Kate Russell, the national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, told The Guardian. “Covering their face and nose now can trigger flashbacks, panic attacks and severe anxiety.”

Unfortunately for some such survivors, however, not everyone understands or acknowledges that trauma as a legitimate cause for mask exemption, leaving many rape survivors in fear of public shame or criticism.

“There’s a lot of assumptions that people who aren’t wearing face masks are behaving that way because they’re selfish, stupid, careless or a combination of all three,” said Russell. “This lack of awareness is creating legitimate anxiety among rape survivors that if they go out and about they might not be met with empathy and care.”

The distress rape survivors may experience when covering their mouth and nose with a mask can be severe, sometimes to the extent of requiring medical attention, and criticism from strangers obviously isn’t helpful.

“It’s absolutely horrendous,” one survivor told The Guardian. “I would like to be able to wear a mask, not just for my own health, but because I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable. But even the thought of putting on a mask makes me very, very, very panicky.”

So while it’s easy to roll your eyes at strangers who appear to be willfully neglecting pandemic protocols, let this be a reminder that you don’t know everyone’s story, and not every maskless stranger you encounter is a coronavirus-doubting Karen. A lot of them probably are, though.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.