A rape survivor whose PTSD is triggered when her mouth and nose are covered is calling for greater public awareness of face mask exemptions.
Georgina Fallows, 29, was attacked and sexually assaulted as she made her way home a few years ago.
She has been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be triggered by anything covering her mouth or nose – as that was how she was attacked.
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Ms Fallows told Sky News: “I suffer from something called PTSD because I was raped and pulled off the street with someone covering my mouth with his hand.
“The nature of PTSD can mean you are back there again. So if there is something covering my mouth – it’s his hand. It can be a complete terror”
Georgina, who works as a solicitor, gets flashbacks whenever her face is covered, which have been so severe in the past that she has had to be sedated by the emergency services.
She is exempt from wearing a face mask because of her condition, but has still come up against abuse for not using one on public transport and in shops.
The 29-year-old said: “I don’t look like I don’t need to wear one. You wouldn’t look at me and think ‘oh, that girl is obviously exempt’.
“That’s the issue, these exemptions are in place and cover lots of invisible illnesses and possibilities, so that’s why people are challenging them.”
Every time someone asks her why she isn’t wearing a mask, she is forced to relive her ordeal, she added.
“I can’t wear a mask because I was attacked. It brings it all back. It’s another reminder in the day of what happened to me,” she said.
Ms Fallows wants the government to issue badges to people with exemptions, similar to those for pregnant women or people less able to stand on the London Underground.
She said: “These exemptions are self-certified, which means they are open to abuse. Public mask wearing has become an issue of social responsibility and the attitude is that if you’re not wearing one, you don’t care about anybody else.
“If I have a flashback, it’s not that it makes me uncomfortable, it’s a medical emergency. There needs to be a greater understanding of why these exemptions are in place.”
Children under the age of 11 and people with breathing difficulties or respiratory conditions are exempt from wearing face coverings.
Those who cannot wear or remove a face masks because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability are also exempt, including people for whom wearing one would cause severe distress.
Katie Russell, spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, told Sky News: “We ask that people show compassion, empathy and awareness of those who’ve experienced severe trauma in their lives and are living with the impacts of that every day.
“Some of these people may have difficulty wearing face coverings and they are not obliged to potentially increase their distress by explaining the reasons for this to strangers.
“Please don’t assume that anyone without a face covering is selfish, stupid or careless. There is no justification for abusing strangers whose personal circumstances you do not and cannot know.”