Retraumatizing the Victim (from “On Being Invisible in the Mental Health System,”)


Unseen, unheard
Anna’s child psychiatrist did not inquire into or see signs of sexual trauma. Anna misdiagnosed. Adult psychiatry does not inquire into, see signs of, or understand sexual trauma. Anna misdiagnosed.
Anna’s attempts to tell parents, other adults, met with denial and silencing. Reports of past and present abuse ignored, disbelieved, discredited. Interpreted as delusional. Silenced.
Only two grade school psychologists saw trauma. Their insight ignored by parents. Only two psychologists saw trauma as etiology. Their insight ignored by psychiatric system.
Secrecy: those who knew of abuse did not tell. Priority was to protect self, family relationships, reputations. Institutional secretiveness replicates family’s. Priority is to protect institution, jobs, reputations. Patient abuse not reported up line; public scrutiny not allowed.
Perpetrator retaliation if abuse revealed. Patient or staff reporting of abuse is retaliated against.
Abuse occurred at pre-verbal age. No one saw the sexual trauma expressed in her childhood artwork. No one saw the sexual trauma expressed in her adult artwork with the exception of one art therapist.
Unable to escape perpetrator’s abuse. Dependent as child on family caregivers. Unable to escape institutional abuse. Locked up. Kept dependent: denied education and skill development.
Sexually violated
Abuser stripped Anna, pulled T-shirt over her head. Stripped of clothing when secluded or restrained, often by or in presence of male attendants.
Stripped by abuser to “with nothing on below.” To inject with medication, patient’s pants pulled down exposing buttocks and thighs, often by male attendants.
“Tied up,” held down, arms and hands bound. “Take down,” “restraints”; arms and legs shackled to bed.
Abuser “blindfolded me with my little T-shirt.” Cloth would be thrown over Anna’s face if she spat or screamed while strapped down in restraints.
Abuser “opened my legs.” Forced four-point restraint in spread-eagle position.
Abuser “was examining and putting things in me.” Medication injected into her body against her will.
Boundaries violated. Exposed. No privacy. No privacy from patients or staff. No boundaries.
Taken by abuser to places hidden from others. Forced, often by male attendants, into seclusion room.
Isolated in her experience: “Why just me?” Separated from community in locked facilities.
“I thought I was the only one in the world.” No recognition of patients’ sexual abuse experiences.
Blamed and shamed
I had “this feeling that I was bad…a bad seed.” Patients stigmatized as deficient, mentally ill, worthless. Abusive institutional practices and ugly environments convey low regard for patients, tear down self-worth.
She became the “difficult to handle” child. She became a “non-compliant,” “treatment-resistant” difficult-to-handle patient.
She was blamed, spanked, confined to her room for her anger, screams, and cries. Her rage, terror, screams, and cries were often punished by meds, restraints, loss of “privileges,” and seclusion.
Perpetrator had absolute power/control over Anna. Institutional staff had absolute power/control over Anna.
Pleas to stop violation were ignored. “It hurt me. I would cry and he wouldn’t stop.” Pleas and cries to stop abusive treatment, restraint, seclusion, over-medication, etc. commonly ignored.
Expressions of intense feelings, especially anger directed at parents, were often suppressed. Intense feelings, especially anger at those with more power (all staff), suppressed by medication, isolation, restraint.
Anna was defenseless against perpetrator abuse. Her attempts to tell went unheard. There was no safe place for her even in her own home or room. Mental patients defenseless against staff abuse. Reports disbelieved. No safeguards effectively protect patients. Personnel policies prevent dismissal of abusive staff.
As child, constant threat of being sexually violated. As a mental patient, constant threat of being stripped, thrown into seclusion, restrained, over-medicated.
As a child, Anna’s reports of sexual assault were unheard, minimized or silenced. As a mental patient, Anna’s reports of sexual assault were not believed. Reports of child sexual abuse were ignored.
Appropriate anger at sexual abuse seen as something wrong with Anna. Abuse continued—unseen. Appropriate anger at abusive institutional practices judged pathological. Met with continuation of practices.
Anna’s fear from threat of being abused was not understood. Abuse continued—unseen. Fear of abusive and threatening institutional behavior is labeled “paranoia” by the institution producing it.
Sexual abuse unseen or silenced. Message: “You did not experience what you experienced.” Psychiatric denial of sexual abuse. Message to patient: “You did not experience what you experienced.”
Anna violated by trusted caretakers and relatives. Disciplinary interventions were “for her own good.” Anna retraumatized by helping professional/psychiatry; interventions presented as “for the good of the patient.”
Family relationships fragmented by separation, divorce. Anna had no one to trust and depend on. Relationships of trust get arbitrarily disrupted based on needs of system. No continuity of care or caregiver.

Full article here


About workequalsworthequalsinnocence

Working with animation, video, painting, drawing, installation and intervention, my interdisciplinary practice examines the complex position of culture within neoliberal capitalism and critiques modes of social control, while exploring the potential for art to function as a site of resistance. I am specifically interested in how modes of violence are perpetuated collectively through popular narratives, concepts of justice and denial of accountability. Frequently engaging with communities and collectives, my practice eschews individual authorship in favour of collaboration. This has included an ongoing commitment to working with women and youth who are in conflict with the law, through the creation of art projects in prisons as well as at numerous centres that support marginalized people. In 2008, I completed an MFA through the Public Art and New Artistic Strategies program at the Bauhaus University (Weimar, Germany). My work has been shown nationally and internationally in festivals, screenings, artist run centres and museums. I am currently employed as an Assistant Professor of Studio Arts at Concordia University.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Retraumatizing the Victim (from “On Being Invisible in the Mental Health System,”)

  1. john says:

    The same thing happened to my daughter, but by a male nurse, and she was 27, and a lot/nearly most of what your saying about, what happened to this young girl, happened to my daughter, the police wouldn’t go there and investigate unless the victim could ring and report it, which of course they weren’t allowed, they, nor their family were allowed any contact for almost 30 days, she became unwell because the external treating team, had intentionally made her withdraw in-spite of her being told she could have pills by the internal treating team, it was about keeping them a prisoner on the cant escape fourteen day clamp of madness injection flupenthixol, mental healths heroin,and that was only because firstly she doesn’t actually have a mental illness, and secondly the injection makes her sleep 14 hrs a day, makes her sad tired and feeling oppressed with an anchor on her back, any hospital visit has been a direct result of trying to escape the sad condition mental health keep her in and refuse to let it be any other way, someone at the hospital was told about the rape, and they eventually sent some people from DHS to see her, but they didn’t report the rape to the police or the hospital either, the she reported it to the police and they took a date she had imagined it happened as gospel, and the nurse wasn’t on that day, the reason a lot of them get raped or sexually assaulted is because they give them poisons such as haloperidol or zyprexa on admission, that make them hallucinate, and become totally and dangerously uninhibited in a pixie mind state, dangerously vulnerable, they do it in what they call isolation where there are often no witnesses, or where the whole staff is male, cleaners and all, isolated from their family, other patients, and the world to be drugged and tampered with free will, poisoned free will, and in the end electrocuted free will. because they added Zyprexa amongst others when she had settled after the injection she in the end had to have, and fair enough after ten days, we all know as they do that you go mad going on it and coming off it, that’s where they fool the populace by saying see they need their meds when they fully know the only reason their unwell is because they tried to escape the insanity being forced down their throats, and the oppression and the violence by the people doing it too them, im depressed even writing about it, its depressing even reading it, Thanks psychiatry, thanks mate for your story too, John

    • I’m really sorry to hear these horrible things happened to your daughter. Just to clarify a bit, I think what this article was looking at was how institutions retraumatize sexual abuse survivors by constantly triggering them, but as you have pointed out (and I myself have experienced) they can also be sites of further violence and assaults (not to mention the general lack of empathy and oppressiveness of these systems).

      I hope by raising more awareness we will experience less stigma and find/create more empathetic support.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s