Why Hollywood Is Bad for Sexual Violence Survivors


Something has been bugging me – and some of our readers – for a few days. So, I decided to write about it.

On May 8, I received two email messages from a producer at CBC Radio in Winnipeg, Donna Carreiro, asking me to speak with her about the criminal case in which a former police officer, Richard Dow, plead guilty to 11 of 27 sexual assault and other charges against him. Here’s an excerpt from her message:

Last week, a former city police officer was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman years earlier…..(it was alleged he got her very drunk, had sex and videotaped it….she had no recollection of it until years later, when he was investigated for related incidents).

The victim herself had to testify and it was a grueling cross examine for her…..the accused was then acquitted.

Today, however, that same accused pleaded guilty to several counts of sexual assualt-related [sic] offences against others.

We’d like to talk to someone about how a sex assault survivor ‘survives’ the whole court ordeal…..and is it things like this that dissuage [sic] victims from coming forward at all?

Ideally, we’d interview someone on our Information Radio show tomorrow morning.

The messages got my attention, so I called Ms. Carreiro and we talked for approximately 15 minutes. We talked about the case, about why so few victims of sexual assault report the crime to police, about the justice system re-victimizing survivors, and about why I started Survivors Guide. Ms. Carreiro asked if I would participate in an interview the next morning with the hosts of CBC Information Radio, Terry MacLeod and Marcy Markusa. By the end of the conversation, I agreed to do the interview. In a confirmation email she stated

the discussion will be much like what we talked about…. your experience, how difficult do the courts make it for sex assault survivors? Is this an example of why they’re reluctant to come forward? Are there any victories in this? (ie….accused pleaded guilty today to several other related charges involving other victims?)

The next morning around 9:00 AM EST, I received a call from CBC Information Radio that dropped me right into the interview. The voice on the phone simply told me to hold on the line and that the interview would start shortly. There was no chat with the hosts prior to interview to serve as an introduction.

Terry MacLeod opened the segment with this statement

When former police officer Richard Dow pleaded guilty to sex assault charges yesterday his victims were spared the ordeal of having to testify against him. The guilty plea comes just weeks after another alleged victim took the stand against him last month only to have Dow acquitted of those charges.

However, Marcy Markusa interviewed me. Although I was quite nervous, I thought the interview was going well. That is until Ms. Markusa stated that she imagined if she were ever the victim of sexual violence

As a woman, ever since I saw Jodie Foster in The Accused… and I’m sorry to go to a movie, but that was based on a real case. I’ve always been aware that should anything happen to me, I’d be ready to stand up…

I was surprised and a little thrown when Ms. Markusa used a movie as her point of reference to counter my argument about how sexual assault victims should be treated when they engage with the justice system because they are trauma survivors; and the inappropriate questioning they often encounter. I was also surprised by her conviction about how she would react if she were ever to experience sexual violence.

Here’s the thing Marcy. Even if the movie The Accused was based on a “real case”, Jodie Foster was acting. She was playing a character. She had to imagine how a sexual assault survivor would “behave” under the scrutiny of the justice system; and she was, regardless of how well she did it, repeating words from a script and mimicking actions as she was directed to.

For “real life” sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors there is no script. There is no director on the sidelines giving them cues about how to express emotion in a particular moment. Sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors do not have to imagine the violence because they lived it, survived, and most likely re-live it in some form every day. Furthermore, regardless of how strong and resilient we may each believe we are, sexual violence traumatizes a person and changes them in ways no one can predict.

I saw The Accused in 1988 and it did not compel me to disclose the sexual abuse I experienced. If anything, that movie deterred me from disclosing. It confirmed some of my greatest fears: I would not be believed. I would be blamed. I would be publicly shamed. I would have to stand on my own.

All of these things – disbelief, blame, shame, and isolation – and many more happen to survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault when they disclose and engage with the justice system in Canada and throughout the world. All of these things further traumatize survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault. All of these things are the reasons why 93% of sexual assault survivors do not file reports with the police. All of these things are the reasons why sexual abuse and sexual assault survivors report feeling re-victimized by the justice system.

Even as an adult, I was reluctant to speak out. When I did, I experienced all of the things I feared – disbelief, blame, shame, and isolation. However, I expected these things. What I did not expect, were the unspeakable affronts I experienced at every stage of the justice system, which took every ounce of psychological and emotional strength for me to endure to the end the criminal case process.

All of these things Marcy are why we cringe at and doubt your conviction about how you would react in the face of sexual violence.

Instead, the conviction we must all have is to working to eliminate the possibility of any of these things happening to a single survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault when they engage with the justice system and to eliminating sexual violence from our society.

You can listen to the 8-minute interview here:

CBC Radio Winnipeg – Information Radio Interview with Terry MacLeod and Marcy Markusa

If you are unable to open the link above, copy and paste this address into your browser’s address bar: http://www.cbc.ca/video/watch/Radio/ID=2232479631

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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Recovery Bill of Rights for Trauma Survivors


Trauma is defined as “any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident” and “an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects”. Sexual abuse and sexual assault are trauma.

When most people think of trauma, they do not include sexual abuse or sexual assault. The things that come to mind are physical injuries caused – in most cases – by accidents or serious illness. The loss of a loved one is considered a traumatic incident, whether that occurs through death or the sudden end of a relationship. For some, the loss of a beloved pet may be traumatic. In these situations, the affected party is usually given space and time to heal in their own way. They are treated with compassion and care, and they are respected for having survived a tragedy.

Unfortunately, these thoughts and sentiments are not always extended to survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Many survivors never receive the space or time necessary to heal. In some cases, survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault may be treated as if a disease that requires aggressive treatment or a cure has inflicted them, while some may not receive any care at all. As a result, quite frequently, survivors are re-traumatized.

According to the Trauma-Informed Toolkit developed by Klinic Community Health Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba

“People who have been affected by trauma are at risk of being re-traumatized in every social service and health care setting. This is often due to a lack of knowledge about the effects of traumatic events and a limited understanding of how to work effectively with survivors. Trauma effected people frequently feel misunderstood and unsupported which can impede healing and growth. This can be prevented with basic knowledge and by considering trauma-informed language and practices.”

 As survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault, in social service and health care settings, we can demand the care, time, and space that we need for healing. The Recovery Bill of Rights for Trauma Survivors written by Thomas V. Maguire, PhD in 1995 provides a guide to the rights entitled to every survivor in four areas

  • personal authority
  • personal boundaries
  • personal communication
  • the domain of psychotherapy

As you move forward in your healing, you may use this guide to assert your rights. ___________________________________________________________________

A RECOVERY BILL OF RIGHTS FOR TRAUMA SURVIVORS

 As a Matter of Personal AUTHORITY, You Have the Right . . .

  • to manage your life according to your own values and judgment.
  • to direct your recovery, answerable to no one for your goals, effort, or progress.
  • to gather information to make intelligent decisions about your recovery.
  • to seek help from a variety of sources, unhindered by demands for exclusivity.
  • to decline help from anyone without having to justify the decision.
  • to have faith in your powers of self restoration — and to seek allies who share it.
  • to trust allies in healing as much as any adult can trust another, but no more.
  • to be afraid and to avoid what frightens you.
  • to decide for yourself whether, when, and where to confront your fear.
  • to learn by experimenting, that is, to make mistakes.

For the Preservation of Personal BOUNDARIES, You Have the Right . . .

  • to be touched only with your permission, and only in ways that are comfortable.
  • to choose to speak or remain silent, about any topic or at any moment.
  • to choose to accept or decline feedback, suggestions, or interpretations.
  • to ask for help in healing, without having to accept help with work, play, or love.
  • to challenge any crossing of your boundaries.
  • to take appropriate action to end any trespass that does not cease when challenged.

In the Sphere of Personal COMMUNICATION, You Have the Right . . .

  • to ask for explanation of communications you do not understand.
  • to express a contrary view when you do understand and you disagree.
  • to acknowledge your feelings, without having to justify them as assertions of fact or actions affecting others.
  • to ask for changes when your needs are not being met.
  • to speak of your experience, with respect for your doubts and uncertainties.
  • to resolve doubt without deferring to the views or wishes of anyone.

Specific to the DOMAIN of Psychotherapy, You Have the Right . . .

  • to hire a therapist or counselor as coach, not boss, of your recovery.
  • to receive expert and faithful assistance in healing from your therapist.
  • to be assured that your therapist will refuse to engage in any other relationship with you — business, social, or sexual — for life.
  • to be secure against revelation of anything you have disclosed to your therapist, unless a court of law commands it.
  • to have your therapist’s undivided loyalty in relation to any and all perpetrators, abusers, or oppressors.
  • to receive informative answers to questions about your condition, your hopes for recovery, the goals and methods of treatment, the therapist’s qualifications.
  • to have a strong interest by your therapist in your safety, with a readiness to use all legal means to neutralize an imminent threat to your life or someone else’s.
  • to have your therapist’s commitment to you not depend on your “good behavior,” unless criminal activity or ongoing threats to safety are involved.
  • to know reliably the times of sessions and of your therapist’s availability, including, if you so desire, a commitment to work together for a set term.
  • to telephone your therapist between regular scheduled sessions, in urgent need, and have the call returned within a reasonable time.
  • to be taught skills that lessen risk of retraumatization:
  • containment (reliable temporal/spatial boundaries for recovery work);
  • systematic relaxation;
  • control of attention and imagery (through trance or other techniques).
  • to reasonable physical comfort during sessions.

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

The Collision of the Personal and the Professional


Someone once told me that at some point our personal and professional lives are bound to collide. I chose to believe that it is possible – although often times difficult – to keep the two separated. My personal and professional lives collided recently, and I am forever changed.

Last Sunday evening I was talking with a person that I have long considered a close friend. I endured the displeasure of listening to him speak words that enraged me and caused feelings of physical illness with the hope that I might be able shift his thinking. However, the impossibility of sparking any change became evident when he made statements that revealed the distance that exists between our core values.

Here is some of what he said:

  • Children are sexually abused because of flaws in their characters that are targeted by sexual predators
  • Children are sexually abused because they are not strong, grounded individuals
  • Children are sexually abused because they come from families that are not strong or stable and the parents of these children are ultimately responsible for the abuse
  • Children must bear a share of the responsibility when they are sexually abused, and that responsibility is increased when they choose not to disclose the abuse immediately
  • Studies need to be conducted to determine the “type” of child that becomes a victim of sexual abuse

The shock of these words coming from someone I held as a friend has still not worn off. No matter how much evidence I offered to counter his arguments he continued to assert his beliefs – his very dangerous beliefs. He shamelessly minimized the criminal responsibility of anyone who harms a child. As a parent, he refused to recognize the fact that any child – according to reported statistics 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls by the time they are 18 years old – could become a victim of sexual violence. Moreover, he displayed the weakness of his character when he repeatedly stated that the most vulnerable in our society should be held responsible when they are sexually abused.

Children are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. The people children trust and love abuse them. People in positions of trust, power, and authority abuse children. Family members abuse children. Family friends abuse children. Strangers abuse children. The trauma of sexual abuse has lifelong effects and sexually abused children are NEVER responsible for the abuse.

I know this because I am a sexual abuse survivor.

The person I had this conversation with did not know that I am a survivor because it is not information I often disclose in my personal life. In my personal life, I talk around the edges of sexual abuse. This collision between my personal and professional lives has made me realize that hiding behind my work while shrouding my personal life in secrecy are no longer options. I cannot truly advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual violence if I cannot be truthful about who I am in all areas of my life because I choose to do this work because I am survivor. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, a part of this work is trying to eliminate the misinformation and myths that exist about sexual abuse and sexual abuse survivors.

Because of this person’s beliefs I can no longer maintain our friendship, but I am walking away with renewed purpose and the knowledge that I am stronger without it.

T. Bennett
Founder,
Survivors Guide

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Publication Bans: Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Cases


On the morning of the preliminary hearing, the Crown Attorney asked the victim in the sexual abuse case if she wanted to have a publication ban placed on the trial. Until that moment, she did not know that it was possible to protect her identity and shield her life from unwanted invasion due to harmful publicity.

She had taken other steps to protect herself. She had moved, changed her phone numbers, cut of communication with friends and family members, and she had even changed her job because she feared the backlash she would face for seeking justice against her offender. The expenses, the personal losses, the stress and anxiety she felt about the case might have been prevented had she known that she could protect her privacy with a simple request to the court.

In sexual abuse and sexual assault cases, the victim(s) has the right to request a publication ban.

According to the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, “the media is constitutionally entitled to publish information about court cases, but there are exceptions to this right. The court may (and frequently must) impose publication bans to protect the fairness and integrity of the case, the privacy or safety of a victim or witness, or the identity of a child or youth.” Under the Criminal Code of Canada, two sections apply to victims in sexual abuse and sexual assault cases. These sections prohibit the publishing, broadcasting or transmitting of information:

Section 486.4 provides for orders restricting publication of information that could identify a complainant or witness in a sexual offence

Section 486.5 deals with publication bans on information revealing the names of victims, witnesses and justice system participants, where the order is deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice

When a publication ban is applied, it is noted in the court record. All case documentation is marked with “”PUBLICATION BAN” and the number(s) of the related section(s) of the Criminal Code is also listed. In addition, when members of the public or the media request access to the court record, Ministry staff must inform them that the case is subject to a publication ban.

This makes it possible for survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault, adults and children, to protect their identity from harmful publicity. Survivors do not need to incur expenses or take extreme steps because the Criminal Code of Canada clearly states the right and provides the tools to protect their identities.

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Suspected Abuse and the Duty to Report


“Be careful of Clive.”

That was the warning to a young girl from her aunt who suspected that it might be unsafe for her to spend time alone with the man who had already been sexually abusing her for months. Her aunt did not confront the man. She did not discuss her suspicions with other family members. She did not report her concerns to the police or a child protection agency. She told the young girl to be careful, but did nothing more to ensure her safety.

This person did not fulfill her duty – the duty of an adult to protect a child – and that young girl became a survivor.

In Canada, each province and territory has a Child Protection Act* because children cannot protect themselves. According to each Act, if a person has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a child is in need of protection that person must report the suspicion and all information to the local police or child protection agency. This responsibility extends to all adults. Even if, wrongly, we choose to believe the responsibility falls more heavily on the shoulders of anyone who performs professional or official duties involving children. Even if, in some cases – because of the nature of the job – a child may feel safer disclosing abuse to professionals such as:

  • Health care professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and family counselors
  • Educational professionals including teachers, school principals, guidance counselors, early childhood educators (ECE), daycare staff, and youth and recreation staff
  • Religious officials including ministers, rabbis, and other members of the clergy
  • Law enforcement professionals including peace and police officers
  • Social workers
  • Lawyers

Every person has the duty to report if he or she suspects the abuse of a child. There are no exceptions.

So, what are some of the things from which a child requires protection?

  • Neglect: the failure to provide adequate care and/or supervision
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse: revealed in children as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, and/or delayed development
  • Physical Abuse: injury inflicted by a parent/caregiver or another person; or resulting from neglect or lack of supervision
  • Sexual Abuse: when a child is sexually molested, sexually assaulted, or sexually exploited by her or his parent/caregiver or by another person; or the parent/caregiver knows that there is a risk of sexual molestation, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child

The Child Protection Act of Ontario states that if you suspect a child requires protection, to fulfill the duty to report you must make the report directly. You cannot rely on another person to report abuse on your behalf. In fact, anyone who fails to make a report is guilty of an offence.

We know that children cannot protect themselves. The key principles of each Child Protection Act – the promotion of the best interests, protection, and well-being of children – are there to remind us of this. Therefore, if you suspect abuse, fulfill your duty: report it. You may protect a child from becoming a survivor.

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* Written with excerpts from the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Support for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse


The province of Ontario has recognized the need to provide services tailored to male survivors of sexual abuse. The government’s plan includes a 2-year investment of $2.2 million to establish dedicated services for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Starting in early summer 2011, male survivors of sexual abuse will have access to an integrated network of services and support through 45 agencies across the province. The agencies will work together to provide training, public education and other professional development services to ensure male survivors of sexual abuse receive the supports they need.

These agencies will co-ordinate the delivery of specialized services for male victims including:

  • individual and group counselling
  • peer support
  • residential services
  • telephone and e-counselling

You may see the complete list of Service Providers here: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/news/2011/20110413-male-bg.asp

Survivors will also have access to a new 24 hour, toll-free phone number that will provide crisis and referral services.

The government emphasized that this initiative complements a wide range of existing services that male survivors of sexual abuse can access, noting that The Men’s Project in Ottawa will receive funding to continue to work in the area of men’s services to male survivors of sexual abuse in the Cornwall and Ottawa areas.

A provincial advisory committee of experts is in place to ensure services across the province are rolled out smoothly and effectively, and are responsive to the needs of survivors. Members of the provincial advisory committee include:

  • Dr. Fred Mathews, psychologist and research and quality assurance project lead, Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
  • Arthur Lockhart, professor of justice studies at Humber College and founder of The Gatehouse
  • Dr. Peter Jaffe, professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario
  • A representative from Findhelp Information Services and a representative from each of the four regional partnerships
  • A member of the Office for Victims of Crime
  • A representative from the Ontario Victim Services Secretariat

If you have questions or concerns about these services for male survivors of sexual abuse, you may contact the office of the Ontario Attorney General

Toll-free: 1-800-518-7901
Toronto: 416-326-2220
Teletypewriter (TTY) toll-free: 1-877-425-0575
Teletypewriter (TTY) Toronto: 416-326-4012
Email: attorneygeneral@ontario.ca
Mail: Ministry of the Attorney General, McMurtry-Scott Building, 720 Bay Street, 11th Floor, Toronto, ON  M7A 2S9

 

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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Vulnerable Victims and Family Fund


On April 10, the Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley announced the Vulnerable Victims and Family Fund.

The aim of this $900,000 fund is to help victims of crime and their families as they negotiate the intricacies of the justice system. According to the Attorney General, this new program will allow victims and their families “to participate more fully in the criminal court process”.

This fund will provide both financial and court-based supports to Ontario residents in three ways:

  • Helping both victims of crime and families of homicide victims to travel to attend court during key points in a criminal trial
  • Providing vulnerable victims with interpretation services when they are observing a criminal trial
  • Ensuring that victims with disabilities have appropriate supports, such as real-time captioning or other equipment to help them testify

Under the new program, victims of crime and families of homicide victims should apply through Ontario’s Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP), which is available in all 54 court districts across the province. V/WAP staff will determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis and help those who may qualify for assistance to apply. To find the V/WAP office closest to you, visit the online Victims Services Directory.

As of May 1, 2011 victims of crime and there families will be able to apply for support through a website.

For additional information about the Vulnerable Victims and Family Fund contact:

Victim Support Line
Toll-free: 1-888-579-2888
Toronto: 416-314-2447

 

Online: Victim Services Directory
http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/ovss/FindHelp.asp

 

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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