Protestors hold a banner while marching.
Protestors hold a banner while marching down the corner of 16th Street and Vine during the protest on Thursday, Aug 26, 2021, in Lincoln. Photo by: Savannah Hamm/NNS

Sexual assault has been a central topic among University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and the Lincoln community.

A slew of social media posts continues to be posted in August and September about sexual assault on college campuses, a majority of users looking for justice for survivors. Most of the posts, however, lack warnings for those who have been victims or are sensitive to the topics. 

“Trigger warnings allow an individual to decide if they are in the headspace to take information of that nature in,” said Mariah Petersen, a counselor and outreach coordinator at UNL Counseling and Psychological Services.

According to The Mix article, “A Guide to Content and Trigger Warnings,” trigger warnings should be used when there is the possibility of exposing an individual with past trauma to a topic that may cause a negative physical or emotional reaction. The article provides steps on how to add warnings to social media. Adding the abbreviation, TW// along with slashes, followed by a short description of the topic is one way to add a trigger warning. These can be added in a slide before a post or within captions.

“It is hard to assess how to be cautious as it is a tough topic. It is always good to be aware of others and to put warnings out there,” Petersen said.

One of the suggested uses of trigger warnings is to be vague with sexual assault topics until a warning is used to be cognisant of readers who may be physically and emotionally harmed by seeing triggers.

“Looking at it as a spectrum, it can range from making survivors uncomfortable to causing flashbacks. It is not a linear process, it can be very up and down,” Petersen said. “One thing can trigger someone and another could not.”

According to The Mix article, “A Guide to Content and Trigger Warnings,” abbreviations using symbols or asterisks should not be used when adding the description of the topic. While a Medium article, “Trigger Warnings 101: A Beginners Guide”, suggests the use of asterisks if rape is included in the trigger warnings, it does suggest saying sexual violence or sexual assault instead.

 When talking to a female survivor about this, she mentioned in her own experience, neither really helps.

“After the Fiji situation, I couldn’t really be on social media for the following days. Whenever the word ‘rape’ is mentioned, it can send you into a spiral for days after,” Petersen said.

Physically, survivors’ bodies can react to triggers. They can experience increased heart rate, shortness of breath, panic attacks, anxiety and more as the body prepares for fight or flight. A reaction can happen after ingesting anything about the topic, but the main triggers are seeing the word “rape” or graphic details of assaults, according to Petersen.

“There is not anything wrong with these responses; they are unfortunate but they are normal,” Petersen said.

When asked if a sexual assault survivor had anything to say about trigger warnings and their use, she talked about someone’s entire well-being.

“Trigger warnings are easily forgettable or dismissable for you but for someone else, their entire well-being depends on it,” the survivor said.

I am a senior double major in Fisheries and Wildlife and Journalism at UNL.