The New Republic: The trauma of writing about trauma

The New Republic: The trauma of writing about trauma

My piece at The New Republic this week is about how reporting on trauma – on rape, on war, on anti-Black violence – can affect the journalists who write about it:

Hours after submitting to my editor my draft of a long, reported magazine feature about my alma mater’s campus rape problem, I woke up screaming from a horrifying dream about being drugged and raped. I’m not a survivor of sexual assault, but I write about it often, and this article was more than six months in the making. The accounts I’d heard had lodged themselves into my subconscious. Now, they were making their presence known, and brutally so. I barely slept for the next three nights, afraid that if I did, I’d return to that terrible nightmare.

Many journalists experience similar symptoms after witnessing horrific trauma, becoming traumatized themselves. In her new book Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, human rights reporter Mac McClelland wrote about how her reporting on sexual violence in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake left her emotionally and psychologically shattered. The trauma of finding and telling stories about the worst things that can happen to human beings was cumulative; though witnessing sexual violence in Haiti was what triggered her PTSD, she had spent months reporting on human suffering, and often, doing that work put her in harm’s way. Before Haiti, she had reported on the human impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, writing about the misery of fishermen and their families as their livelihoods evaporated; before that, she wrote about vigilante justice on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, where a group of her sources joked openly about raping her. After a while, doing her job left her unable to do her job.

You can read the whole thing here.


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