With face coverings compulsory in shops, on public transport and many other places, it is increasingly the case that adults without face masks are being looked at oddly, and can be forced to explain many times over why they are not wearing masks. For some, it’s a question of medical necessity – the rules allow for an exception for “people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability”.
However, for others, the wearing of a mask triggers PTSD from a rape of other experience, with panic attacks, flashbacks and general distress. There is an exception for this group too – “where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress”, but the need to explain your reason, and relive the traumatic experience, is often enough to cause people to want to avoid this kind of situation altogether. many rape survivors who have PTSD from their mouth and nose being covered are finding themselves virtually trapped, unable to go out, due to their fear of having to explain their lack of a mask to strangers.
Advice for the general public is not to confront strangers about their mask – or lack of one – but shop workers, public transport workers and others do have a right to ask people to wear masks.
Exception cards are available, if a person feels they need to justify their situation. You can download a template here.
The Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre has published a blog around coping with face coverings as a survivor of sexual violence, which has suggestions around finding a type of covering you can tolerate, practicing at home for tiny periods of time, and increasing the exposure to the mask, using calming scents on the mask, and other grounding techniques. (This page seems to be missing at present)
The full Government guidance on where you should wear masks, and under what circumstances you may not wear them, can be found here.
The Guardian published an article around this subject, which makes very interesting reading.