Rape victims say that wearing masks can trigger horrific flashbacks of being smothered or choked and are calling for less pressure to wear the face-coverings.
They are among a growing number who are concerned by so-called ‘mask rage’ – the shaming of those who don’t cover their faces in shops and on public transport.
A number of sexual abuse victims have told charity Rape Crisis that they are avoiding places they would usually go to for fear of being stigmatised for not putting on a mask.
‘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, national spokesperson for the charity, told The Guardian.
‘Covering their face and nose now can trigger flashbacks, panic attacks and severe anxiety,’ Ms Russell added.
Despite the government providing a legal exemption from mandatory face masks for those who experience severe distress, rape victims feel that they are being exposed to harrowing prejudices.
Ms Russell said that people make assumptions that those who aren’t wearing a mask must in some way be ignorant, selfish or careless.
A 29-year-old woman who spoke to The Guardian said: ‘For part of my rape, he had his hand over my mouth. As a result, anything over my mouth – even an oxygen mask – can trigger a flashback. And that is hugely distressing. Physically, it feels like I’m back there again and he’s raping me and I am dying.’
The victim said that she would like to be able to wear a face covering, for her own health and also to reassure others, but that her post-traumatic stress made it impossible.
She said that she’d been ‘interrogated’ by somebody at the hairdressers after the end of lockdown and that the person had refused to accept she was exempt.
As a result of this confrontation, the woman said that she is avoiding all public spaces where masks are mandated.
Rape Crisis says that public spaces, shops and public transport should be displaying signs to remind people that there are valid reasons for not wearing a mask to avoid such aggressive behaviour by those who are wearing face-coverings.