For a long time, words were my weapon. There’s a rea­son I called my book ‘I’m the girl who was raped’. My power was taken away when I was raped, so I lashed out with what I had left: own­ing my shame.

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - THE QUICKIE - Michelle Hat­tingh Au­thor In­sta­gram: @mich_ hat­tingh

In 2012, the year af­ter I was raped, trig­ger warn­ings weren’t a core part of how we com­mu­ni­cate on­line yet. I was strug­gling with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, but as a me­dia in­tern I had to read the news ev­ery day. This of­ten meant read­ing sto­ries about bru­tal sex­ual as­saults. There was no heads-up that this con­tent could be dis­turb­ing to some­one like me. I re­mem­ber try­ing to numb my­self ev­ery morn­ing.

I didn’t like trig­ger warn­ings when I saw them pop­ping up on my news­feeds. I didn’t un­der­stand why ev­ery­one couldn’t just tough it out. That was un­til April 2017 when a Zapiro car­toon of Ja­cob Zuma zip­ping up his fly af­ter rap­ing ‘lady’ South Africa popped into my in­box. ‘She’s all yours, boss!’ read the cap­tion, as a Gupta brother got ready to rape her next.

Min­utes later I was in the bath­room at work, bit­ing my hand while I cried. I wish some­one had given me the choice to de­cide whether I wanted to see that car­toon. Be­cause I wouldn’t have clicked on that e-mail if I knew what was in it.

In 2016 the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago re­leased a state­ment say­ing that it does not sup­port ‘so-called “trig­ger warn­ings”’ or ‘safe spa­ces where in­di­vid­u­als can re­treat from ideas and per­spec­tives at odds with their own’. The prob­lem with this is that it ig­nores what trig­ger warn­ings are about: choice. Trig­ger warn­ings give read­ers, es­pe­cially those who are sen­si­tive to par­tic­u­lar sub­jects, the power to en­gage with con­tent on their own terms.

If you’re ir­ri­tated by trig­ger warn­ings, take a mo­ment to con­sider that per­haps we’ve never had to treat these is­sues with nu­ance be­cause those af­fected have never had the power to de­mand that we do so.

You don’t get to de­cide whether you were raped or a vic­tim of vi­o­lence. But you do get to choose how you en­gage with that iden­tity and what steps you can take to pro­tect it and fight for change.

Trig­ger warn­ings re­mind us that we don’t have to use words as weapons. We can use words to give peo­ple power in­stead.

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