Survivors of Sexual Violence & Face Coverings

We know that some survivors of sexual violence can find wearing a face mask a triggering experience. Whilst we advise that survivors try to wear a face covering to protect themselves and others from Covid-19, we know that this isn’t always possible.

Government guidelines state that “where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress” you can be exempt from wearing a face covering. However, we know that not all members of the public are aware of this and that survivors may be asked why they are not wearing a face covering in shops or on public transport. This can be an incredibly difficult experience for survivors who may then feel obliged to disclose their experience of sexual violence.

Although government guidelines say that if exempt from wearing a face covering, you do not have to show written evidence or an exemption card, we know that survivors may feel under pressure to justify not wearing a mask. We know that some survivors are avoiding going out in public so as not to be in a situation where they feel they are being judged for not wearing a mask. We are very conscious that this can compound existing feelings of isolation amongst survivors.

Other organisations have therefore produced some tools to assist those who cannot wear a mask, such as exemption cards and lanyards. Links below:

Face mask exemption lanyard:

https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/hidden-disabilities-face-covering.html (for a small fee)

Face mask exemption cards:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/903452/Exemption_from_face_covering_badge_for_mobile_phone.pdf (you can print these for free)

https://www.thesurvivorstrust.org/covid-19-are-you-concerned-about-wearing-a-mask

It’s also important to highlight that this isn’t something survivors should have to deal with alone. It is important that others are mindful that both wearing a face covering or seeing other people wearing face coverings may be triggering for survivors and we should therefore treat people who are not wearing face coverings with respect.

Please remember that the reason a person may be exempt from wearing face coverings is not always visible and easy to talk about, but this doesn’t mean it is not valid.

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