28 March 2009

Guest Post: Violence Against Women and the BC Government

The horrendous levels of abuse many women are forced to live with due to all the BC government's financial cuts: to legal aid, income assistance and (federally) EI is appalling, frightening and shocking to me. Ending Violence Association of BC (formerly BC Association of Specialized Victim Assistance and Counselling Programs) is doing a tremendous job providing services in women's counselling, outreach, victim assistance and children who witness abuse programs and conferences that bring leading edge speakers and trainers to the front line. But this does not mean those on the front line can hang on beyond six to eight years as witnesses, especially when the entire system is the problem.

I have been a Stopping the Violence/Women's Counsellor, Outreach Worker, Victim Assistance and Aboriginal Mental Health counsellor for 12  years in the Okanagan, northwestern BC and southwest coast of BC. Ever since Campbell became premier I have watched women's options, supports and fuinctioning decline tremendously. Women are arriving occasionally at transition houses on the west coast in severe states of post traumatic stress. Some of these outpost Transition Houses are poorly informed and unprepared to support these women. They refuse entry or send away any woman who uses substances, which is actually common with this natural, adaptive syndrome. We commonly use substances to manage the automatic emotional flooding and 'danger' alarms released by the brain. Substances help decrease the symptoms by numbing the body and helping the mind forget for awhile. After living in many dangerous and overwhelming situations where women have had no power, substances are often the one tool they have left to feel better within, despite the risks.

I use the feminist analysis of complex post traumatic stress response (CPTSR), based on Laurie Haskell's work in psychology. CPTSR involves an unmanageable state of being in your body and mind, that prevents women from knowing who to trust and not to trust, how to communicate their needs and fears. Women who grew up in abusive and neglectful homes are often developmentally impaired (unless they had someone to sooth and provide comfort); the amygdala and hippocampus in the limbic brain, which manage our emotional world by identifying, naming and triggering responses, have been shown to become damaged from prolonged childhood trauma or stress. Perception and reactivity are altered.

These areas of the brain are easily overly stimulated from an overload of adrenaline that does not shut down easily. In this state of reactivity our ancient reptilian brain takes over as it is intended [to do] for survival and with CPTSR present, it does not perceive safety easily. In fact, it often misreads safe versus unsafe people and situations. The brain is wired for sound at this state and perceptions are quick to assume risk, danger and mistrust. Thus women are extremely isolated, living with 24/7 fear and are hyper reactive at times when they fear harm. Uninformed and untreated women are reactive to the adrenaline flow of fight, flight, freeze or accomodation.

The mental health system treats women too often under a medical model using the Diagnostic and Stastistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, psychiatry's bible, which states this as a disorder and simply prescribes anti-depressants, sleeping drugs and anti-psychotic drugs that further numb the body; women so treated often report feeling like a robots. I know there are many women who are homeless or would be if they stopped accepting spousal or others' abuse and threats, so they become the abusers' punching bags or sex slaves. With children or dependancy beliefs, a woman can be set up to be a victim to any and every kind of violence and abuse, includng hostage taking, rapes, drug injections and/or drinking alcohol despite her refusal that goes on and on, never ending until she either dies or is able to flee.

And where does she flee to when Transtion Houses do not understand CPTSR and have these ignorant policies? In TH's not in urban areas, administrators often feel they do not have the funds to support staff to obtain the training. Small town employees have small amounts of awareness about abuse, despite all the books, articles and manuals on the topic. On a good note, I understand the BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses is hiring a person presently to examine the issues and look at advising government to fund a third stage housing or some facsimile.

But this government will only laugh if they look at the report at all. In 2007, I handed Health Minister George Abbott three reports: Women Abuse is a Health Issue, by BC Womens Hospital's Jill Cory; the SAMSHA background report; and my The Extreme Risks Women of Haida Gwaii Face. I know Abbott tossed it overboard as he was never interested in women's issues. I had him as a Political Science Instructor in 1990. This man did not raise the name of one woman during those two University semesters. And neither did he, as BC's health minister, make any adjustments to increase health supports to women fleeing abuse.

The above was sent to me in an email from a friend. She gave me permission to reprint her words here. She requested her name be withheld.

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