A World That Would Have Us Doubt: Rape, the System, and Swim Fans

Sera Davidow
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I’m feeling painfully hooked by the story of Brock Allen Turner and the woman he raped at Stanford University in 2015. There are countless incidents like it, but this one has caught me up more than most.

It’s not just the telling injustice of Turner’s pitiful 6-month jail sentence, but how it stands up against the frank and fearless-seeming statement offered by the woman he attacked. It’s not just Turner’s own pathetic denial of reality, but also the callous misogyny expressed by his father, and the starkly apparent biases of the judge who decided the case. Nor is it the number of times I’ve been forced to look into Turner’s wide, innocent eyes or at his smiling face (plastered on so many articles regardless of their spin), but also the minimization by Turner’s buddy, and her (HER!) claim that this sort of violence isn’t like the rest of the violence because it’s not… random enough?

It’s not just what happened, but the doubts that so many have raised about who and what we are supposed to value and prioritize, all in seeming effort to plead mercy for this young (white, middle class, formerly steak-loving) man with such a promising swim team career.

This – this narrative of who matters in society and how we convince everyone that certain people don’t count (including, sometimes, those people themselves) – should be a familiar one to all of us who’ve been touched by the psychiatric system in some way. But we don’t talk nearly enough about how one interlocks with the other. For example, how do these attitudes about girls and women and their bodies serve as a sort of preparatory ‘class’ for the systems that will bind them just a little further down the road? How does one lead to another?

The sort of doubt that is cultivated by being so devalued and questioned and conned by societal expectations lays the groundwork for so many of us to be eaten alive by systems of the same design.

So, I’m having trouble looking away. And yes, this is personal.

Let me explain:

As a child, I remember my parents letting me spend time with a neighborhood boy. I can’t recall how old he was… maybe 12? I was around 4 (the same age my daughter is now).

I do remember that my mother complained he played with my hair too much. (It made her feel uneasy.) And I remember that they used to let him take me swimming in the pool behind our house, and that I really liked going. And I remember the day that he walked into my room before I was ready. I was standing in the middle of the burnt orange carpet, bathing suit in hand, wearing nothing on my body. And then my memories stop, but… I never, ever wanted to go swimming with him again.

When I’ve tried to bring some of this up in later years, my parents say they didn’t leave me alone with him that often and that my memories must be playing tricks… distorted by a child’s way of perceiving the world. I guess I was too young to tell right from wrong.

It made sense to doubt that child over adult minds.

Then, when I was 15, a friend and I snuck out of my mother’s house and went to hang out with two boys we knew. We drove to one of the richest neighborhoods in the area and crept into one of the boy’s houses to hang out in his bedroom. There, I got drunk for the first time, and after reaching a prime state of intoxication, the two boys then took turns holding me down on the bed. They got on top of me, forcing me to kiss them and touching me while my friend threatened to get help if they didn’t stop. I remember her voice got louder each time she said it.

But, you see, I had a crush on one of those boys, and I was painfully insecure. I defined what happened with ‘fuzzy edges.’ I ‘forgave and forgot’ in a desperate attempt to maintain connections. I stayed friends with them at the time. Hell, they’re still among my social media acquaintances even now. (I’m sure they won’t read this.) Maybe I’d asked for it. What kind of girl sneaks out of her house late at night to drink with boys? And, besides, we were all kind of drunk weren’t we? Who can really blame them.

I deserved the doubt.

And, when I was 16 (‘and a half,’ as my daughter would want me to point out), I found myself in my second semester of college and hanging out with an older man who liked to ‘visit’ our isolated campus in the Berkshires. I let him come back to my room one night. The next thing I remember is him saying, “I’ve never had to force anyone before.”

A month or so later, I remember hearing from others that he was raping women because he was HIV+, pissed off, and wanting to spread it. I had no idea of the truth of this rumor, but I managed to find my way to a confidential HIV testing site not too far from campus where they proceeded to ask me every possible detail about my sex life and question me on my choices.

After all, why did I let him come back to my dorm room? What was he supposed to think? And, it’s not like I was some innocent virgin, right? I’d had (voluntary) sex for the first time with a boyfriend in a similar dorm room just the semester before.

How could they not doubt me? It was apparently their job.

When I was 17, I transferred to a college in Worcester, Massachusetts where I again met an older man who liked to ‘hang out’ among us young college coeds. He spent some time just talking to me on a bench near my dorm. I didn’t know many people at the time, and I remember the attention felt nice.

Then, one day, he asked for a tour of the dorm and I said okay. When we got to the basement where the common hangout spot could be found (it was empty at the time), he pressed up against me and forced me to kiss him. I can still feel his hands wrapped around my neck.

I got away that time, but he followed me outside. He told me it was my fault because of the clothes and make up I wore. He also told me that he could go along with not thinking of me sexually, but only if I agreed to become his ‘sister’… The catch being that he was from overseas and, in his country (so he claimed), a sister had to do everything their brother said. But, what was I supposed to do? I’d invited him to the basement of my dorm wearing clothes that apparently gave him the ‘wrong idea.’ That makes it my fault, right?

At around the same time, my mother also wrote me a rather lengthy note explaining that – because my body was larger than she thought it should be – men would probably only want to be with me because they’d think of me as an easy mark… a little desperate or something. Maybe it was partly because of that, too? I wanted it from this guy because I couldn’t get it elsewhere? Was I sending out some kind of ‘vibe’? Was he just trying to do me a favor of some sort?

Doubt became me.

It was around that time that my sense of reality began to shake most substantially. I believed people were talking about me, or thinking terrible thoughts about me, and I felt so distant from my body so much of the time. I doubted everything.

How wonderful for that to also have been the time that the ‘mental health’ system entered my life. I was perfectly primed.

I already doubted so much about my internal and external worlds and my worth and place in them, but this system made me question my very capacity to make any sense of things at all. The people who sought to ‘help’ me glossed over the terrible things that had happened (or didn’t ask after them in the first place), and informed me I couldn’t trust my own brain. They taught me that my reactions to my environment made no sense and were more the product of something broken within.

They gave me institutionalized doubt.

Doubt your sanity. Doubt your choices. Doubt what you think you know, what you see, your inner voices. Turn your agency over to people trained and paid to decide on your behalf. But, when it comes to making sense of your true self, why should we trust a capitalist-bred system’s motives with any of that?

There is some deep misunderstanding here; a fundamental disconnect, if you will. People hear me say these things and they think I’m being overly dramatic, drawing false (or stretched) correlations.  They think I’m ‘anti-psychiatry’ (whatever that truly means beyond being just another label to try and discredit and silence what I know to be true), or not getting some aspect of the necessity of it all. If only so many of us weren’t so sick (torn down by our own pasts), they wouldn’t be forced to force. (It hurts them, too.)

There are so many answers I don’t have, including what to do in every single situation (especially those I’m not in) where someone refuses support while appearing to spiral out of control (so you can keep all your ‘what ifs,’ thank you very much). I’ve never claimed otherwise. Yet, it strikes me as beyond puzzling that people wouldn’t be able to more easily see that it makes no sense to try and further break someone who’s been so fractured by the world around them; that a fundamental part of supporting people through so much pain and confusion would be to build them up, help their confidence grow, rather than further shake their faith that some sense can be made.

Breeding doubt (institutionalized or otherwise) in one’s self is no path to healing. The two are mutually exclusive.

language and retraumatization
Handout on Language & Retraumatization

How can people be so blind to the ways in which our traumas in the world mirror our traumas in the system? I can describe rape and force in ‘treatment’ in ways that sound virtually the same, though most will balk at the ‘bigness’ of that claim. I’ve tried countless ways to illustrate the links – some of them bold and some of them more subtle, but even the most basic words that are regularly used in day-to-day conversation scream re-traumatization. (An example of what I mean is attached here, since I know you all love a good handout, or click here for a downloadable copy and to see the second page.)

Yet the blindness continues. Perhaps, the biggest barrier is that if there’s any real acknowledgement that trauma in the system is directly comparable to all these abuses in the broader world… then there must also be some degree of admission that people working in those systems are directly comparable (at least to some extent) to a perpetrator of what our world is more readily willing to recognize as crime.

Now, I am someone who tends to come from a perspective that it is the system itself that is the problem, and that both those working and ‘receiving’ services within it are similarly caught up in its inner workings. However, I wouldn’t argue against that conversation: What responsibility should people working in the system take for the traumas they are a part of inflicting? How can that conversation happen without those in power simply continuing to silence it out of fear, shame, or self-protection? And, even if we can grant a pass to those who have taken part in actions and words that harm for not fully understanding their role at the time… what do we demand from them now in terms of recognition, reparations and being a part of how to change things moving forward?

For my part, I still live with lots of the same doubt that set me up to be victimized (both sexually and psychiatrically). Doubt in myself and my perceptions. Doubt in my ability to be of real value to others (worth being able to say either ‘no’ or ‘yes’). Doubt that I can form true connections. Doubt in everything around me to hold me safely in place.

This is what can happen to a soul when doubt – from wherever it may hail – eats into one’s very core. It’s hard to shake, and sets us up for more of the same.

I blame the people who hurt me and those who made way for them (both before and after) by setting me on ground that was never firm enough to gain real footing and then continuously kicking away the sand. I blame the systems that swallowed me up, saw my pain as the currency to pay for their ‘help,’ and further eroded my perch.

I admire the woman who spoke out against Turner because she did something I did not do which is to speak out at all. But, perhaps more than anything, I admire her for speaking in a way that conveys so little doubt – in spite of all those who cast shadows around her. Perhaps it will act as a protective layer.

It may be that she’s just pretending, but it’s meaningful all the same.

(I wonder what would have happened if a psychiatric diagnosis had been added to the game?)

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98 COMMENTS

  1. Yup.

    Your early experiences are familiar, as well as the later ones after meeting the ‘Mental Health’ people.

    I have days now where I’m confident and trust my perspectives and insights.

    But my immediate environment can still warp my orbit. It’s getting better, tho.

    Thanks for another thought provoking blog post, Sera. I love the way you are able to reflect upon seeming trivia, blow it up into a big picture and offer it for examination.

  2. Slavery never ended in America. The 13th Amendment simply put it under the jurisdiction of Congress, so we are literally, legally a slave State. Enslavement requires the constant denigration of people to “keep them in their place” by those in control who want to use them for economic gain and/or sexual gratification. As long as we collectively think this is necessary and acceptable slavery will continue.

    • While I can see something in where you are coming from, I also know that enslaved Africans were kidnapped from half a world away, and had their entire lives, including their reproductive abilities and family connections, controlled by horrible violence for generations, all in service of unprecedented economic gain for white settlers. I am aware that black Americans, whether or not their ancestors were enslaved, have faced continual conditions of oppression and genocide up until the present living in a racist society that targets them based solely on perceptions of race.

      Modern day extensions of state-sponsored American slavery, have existed and do exist, including prison labor, convict leasing, and endless solitary confinement. All of which are uniquely awful practices that are incomparable to the harmful things that happen to non-black people in the psychiatric system.

      Psychiatry is a big money-making business that relies on state-sponsored violence, but it is not the same as the recent and ongoing history of enslaving people of African descent in the United States. Claiming that it is is actually really offensive to many black people, especially, I have heard, to those who have to deal with both the ongoing legacy of enslavement AND wind up in the psychiatric system.

      I really want to see this community pinpoint the horrible impacts of the psychiatric system, including its contributions to, and perpetuation of rape culture, as Sera has pointed out here, without making comparisons to a lived experience that is not ours. Comments like this, whether intentionally or not, contribute to a climate of anti-blackness — of claiming and therefore marginalizing actual black experiences — that plays a major part in how white this space and our “movements” are. 🙁

      • I really want to see this community pinpoint the horrible impacts of the psychiatric system, including its contributions to, and perpetuation of rape culture, without making comparisons to a lived experience that is not ours… Comments like this, whether intentionally or not, contribute to a climate of anti-blackness — of claiming and therefore marginalizing actual black experiences — that plays a major part in how white this space and our “movements” are.

        Exactly wrong, and this new “line” from MIA is really starting to piss me off.

        Talking about psychiatry vis. a vis. slavery is NOT an analogy, it’s very literal, very concrete.

        I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but the next time a Black person with whom you are speaking is supposedly “offended” by such discussion, you might help by explaining:

        — The “Father of American Psychiatry,” Benjamin Rush, was a slaveholder who believed that being Black was the result of a disease. Psychiatry invented other “diseases” such as “drapetomania” (a slave’s compulsion to escape) in order to subordinate and control the captive African population. The cure for drapetomania was beating.

        Psychiatry, along with the eugenics movement, since its inception has been part of the inherent structural racism of this system and follows a clear path from slavery to current mass incarceration of Blacks which is comparable to the numbers of slaves in the mid-late 1800’s. It is not racism to make people aware of this, it is racism to suppress history in the name of smoothing over differences.

        After these bizarre allegations that talking about slavery equals racism originally surface on MIA I approached some prominent activists about this, Black and white. None of them, once they understood the context, agreed that wanting to explore and analyze psychiatry’s origins in slavery could be construed as racist, And the most prominent Black anti-psychiatry activist with whom I am familiar said that she uses such slavery “analogies” herself. (Though let’s all understand that “analogies” are figures of speech; the links between racism and psychiatry are very concrete, and are not analogies.)

        To me this is simply white liberalism, not anti-racism. Sorry.

        Modern day extensions of state-sponsored American slavery, have existed and do exist, including prison labor, convict leasing, and endless solitary confinement. All of which…are incomparable to the harmful things that happen to non-black people in the psychiatric system.

        Talk about “unconscious” racism. That’s twice you’ve made the assumption that “we” means white people and that “our” movement means “white people’s movement.” This movement — if it really existed as such — would not just be “your” movement, it would belong to everyone being oppressed, and since proportionally speaking Black people are more oppressed it would be “their” movement, if you really want to talk break things down into “us” & “them.”

        Don’t take this too personally, I know it’s a trendy attitude, but it’s full of contradictions. I also don’t want this discussion to take over Sera’s blog so I’ll try hard not to keep responding over & over. This really should be a discussion all its own, but it would be wrong to do this hastily or in a token way, and the Black people who lead the discussion should be well-versed in the anti-psych cause as well as anti-racist history and activism.

        • As Sera said, discussing history and intersections is great, and not at all the same thing as saying “Psychiatry is slavery.”

          It is not my role as a white person to explain to black people that white people they experience as being racist are not really being racist. I wonder how exactly you imagine that conversation working. I’m pretty sure that person would never want to speak to any of us again 99% of the time. And, not that it matters as to whether I engage in whitesplaining, but the folks I’ve talked to are well aware of this history already!

          In my imagination, that would be something vaguely like the friends and family of a psychiatrist explaining to me what system language is and is not harmful to me.

          I have heard, and it seems true to me, that holding white peoples need to be right about things, including racism, over POC’s own experiences and analysis of racism is a significant factor in maintaining a system of white supremacy in our society.

          If a substantial number of black people tell me something is racist, I’m gonna err on the side of not offending and alienating all of those people. I don’t see any use pushing a narrative that they must not be not well-versed, which both seems factually wrong to me and stinks of further racism. Even if I have some thought that goes in a different direction from theirs (in this case, I do not), I’m not willing to argue with POC’s lived experience or the realty that they understand racism better than I ever will.

          If there is disagreement among black folks about this, that’s something for them to discuss on their own, without me taking a stance that, when white people promote it, clearly makes many POC stay far away from our spaces. I say “we” and “our” because the “movement” spaces I travel in, including this website, are disproportionately white and led almost entirely by white folks. “We” are not creating spaces for everybody. We are holding spaces primarily for white people that many POC say are awful to be around. I agree it should be different, but us thinking that does not make it so. To make a “we” that includes everybody, white people would need to stop marginalizing and disrespecting POC. One step in that direction being for white people to stop saying anti-racist POC activists are wrong about what is and isn’t racist.

          This isn’t something I came up with on my own in any way. Everything here is what I’ve learned from POC anti-racist activists, several of whom have told me they either won’t go anywhere near “movement” spaces anymore, or that they do, and experience them as extremely racist, this topic in particular.

          I really want to ask other white folks: Which is more important? Not having racist impact that keeps POC away from you and your struggle in this very moment? Or having the “right” to use an rhetorical analogy to racism?

          • As a black man, I am deeply offended that you would marginalize and trivialize me by referring to “POC’s”, and “black folks”, as if they’re interchangeable. Racism is *NOT* a “black-and-white” issue…..

          • As Sera and others have pointed out, this is an inappropriate diversion of a blog written to discuss women’s issues, specifically rape.

            While I and others would consider much of what you pontificate about in many of these comments to be fairly clueless, however well-intentioned, and not representative of any truly progressive approach to racism, this all deserves an objective and rational examination unswayed by particular political lines. And not in the middle of this blog.

          • One step in that direction being for white people to stop saying anti-racist POC activists are wrong about what is and isn’t racist.

            Sorry, absolutely my last post, but this is a dishonest accusation you can’t back up, especially if you mean to imply that Black anti-psychiatry activists (or those you characterize as such) have a consensus that discussing the “intersection” (if you will) of psychiatry and slavery is racist.

            http://www.sumanfernando.com/Roots%20of%20Racism%20in%20Psychiatry.pdf

            Ciao

    • dkjamil, I am opposed to the many ways that psychiatry oppresses people, and I think it’s incorrect and very harmful to call it “slavery.” This is a hurtful false analogy which dishonors the memory of actual enslaved people and it is racist. Making these kinds of claims fuels the sense I’ve heard expressed by many African-Americans that our movement is not welcoming to them.

      • Anyone who reads Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” will be disabused of the notion that legalized, institutionalized slavery no longer exists in America. And I would hardly call her a “racist.”

      • Psychiatric slavery is not, of course, chattel slavery, however it bears comparison. It was not that long ago when they were imprisoning people on psychiatric plantations, subject to “custodial care”, for life. The question naturally arises out of the situation psychiatric slaves find themselves in, if a chattel slave were viewed by our legislators as 3/5th of a human being, whatever value they’d give to psychiatric slaves is not going to be 5/5ths of a human being, or they’d have the same constitutional rights as the rest of the population. They don’t. Mental health law is a revocation of age of consent law. As mental health law is a revocation of age of consent law, you’ve still got an uphill civil rights struggle to make before you will ever be treated as 5/5ths of a human being. Hmm. I imagine that must make for something of an analogy.

        https://mic.com/articles/104458/this-is-what-slavery-looks-like-in-the-21st-century#.GzxuQVbXo

        • I’m Irish and live in the UK so Im not socialised on American history (the Irish were the first slaves to the Caribbean). I would describe the psychiatric chemical killings as a holocaust (and I believe Dr Peter Breggin also makes connections like this).

          I see psychiatry itself as a form of nasty exploitation similar to industrial farming – and just as cruel.

          • Just adding my two cents…. I think the comparison between common psychiatric treatment in America and slavery is quite apt, without even bringing race into it.

            Telling someone they have a brain disease and have to take drugs for life… and then coercing them to take the drugs…. and in this way creating terror and discouragement and lack of freedom in that individual, pressuring them to adopt the role of a sick person who will not work or have normal relationships… this is what happens to many, many, many so-called “serious mentally ill” people in America. This may not literally be slavery, but it is in effect much the same: It traps the person in a torturous half-life where they are not free to exit the arrangement or way of living that has been imposed upon them.

            It is in fact the most vicious form of slavery: enslavement of the mind.

            The psychiatric slave becomes a prisoner toiling to produce income for the psychiatric system via consuming drugs that get billed to taxpayers or the prisoner’s family/insurance. Psychiatric slaves are property of the corporations, much as much as literal slaves once tilled the cotton fields for their owners.

            And no, this isn’t just about black people. People of every race have been slaves throughout history – black, Hispanics, Asians, and some whites even today. Black people are just the most obvious from our American perspective historically.

            Today, white, black, yellow, and brown people are enslaved by psychiatric practices across America. We should not be afraid to say this.

        • In slavery people were denied the right to (legally) marry and any children they might have anyhow were taken from them if the master deemed it expedient.

          In psychiatric slavery, we are often punished for marrying or coerced out of marriage and our children are taken from us if the system deems it best. And it often does. Worse yet, the children are watched zealously for signs of “abnormality”–after all they have our flawed genes–and often wind up slaves of psychiatry as well.

          Thus I refuse to have children.

  3. I have a therapist who is after me because I refuse to have sex, preferring to remain a virgin. No, she doesn’t want to have sex with me; it would be easier to prove her lack of ethics if she did. She just keeps telling me to have sex and making light of my religious and moral beliefs. I’m beginning to dislike if not hate her. I never want to sit through another session with her again.

    I have a boyfriend, but she hasn’t even told me to have relations with him. Apparently she just wants me to go out and screw something that moves. That’s “normal” and “healthy” to her way of thinking. I shouldn’t have to have sex with some stranger I meet in a bar just to make her happy!

    My parents are furious with her, but there’s nothing they can do because I’m an adult.

    • This person is not providing therapy. The most basic aspect of good therapy is the ability and willingness to assist the recipient in finding his/her own narrative and ability to make decisions on his/her own behalf. Telling someone else what to do to prove they are “healthy” is no part of any sane or effective therapy. I think you would be wise to consider finding a therapist who respect you and doesn’t try to control you in the name of “therapy,” but rather helps you feel in better control of your own life.

      — Steve

  4. After seeing so many headlines using the phrase “former Stanford swimmer” to identify/define Brock Turner, I finally just yesterday saw one that got it right: Convicted rapist Brock Turner. And this one had his mugshot, unlike all the others that show the suit & tie yearbook smile.

    Reminds me of the language contortions that Big Pharma uses in their commercials, using soft-spoken (boring, soothing even) voices reciting watered-down terms to describe their side effects, while using the most alarmist voices, tone and words to name/describe the “condition” they are trying to scare you into thinking you need to “ask your doctor” about.

    THE SHINGLES VIRUS COULD ALREADY BE INSIDE YOU!!!

  5. Thank you for writing this, Sera. It’s personal for a lot of us.
    You ask whether there was a “vibe” being sensed. Oh, yeah. Just like sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away and zero in on the source, sexual predators seem to have a very sensitive meter to detect the vulnerability of injured selves. They don’t choose their victims at random, they look for an easy in. How many stories of early sexual violation have you heard where there is no subsequent perpetrator? That’s not the pattern. The early violation paves the way, and subsequent predators recognize the trail blazed.

    Sera (4-year-old Sera, and 15-year-old Sera, and 16-year-old Sera, and 17-year-old Sera):
    I hear you and resonate your truth. I believe you. I stand in solidarity with you.

  6. Mental Health, Inc. demands docility and compliance. As a “non-compliant patient,” I’ve been subject to the worst sorts of punishment (electroshock against my will, for instance) basically for being a “trouble maker” and “not knowing my place in society” (why the ” “? Because these are, in fact, direct quotes…).

    Mental Health, Inc. is usually more subtle in its control the medicalized…but not always. Trust me. Just “get uppity” and see what happens.

  7. Thank you Sera for your most important article. I am glad that people are speaking up about this, and I hope something can be done.

    I also take note of this today’s news story about it:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2016/6/8/meet_the_law_professor_leading_a

    In court the victim addressed her rapist directly and said,
    “You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself.”

    Why do we even have schools like Stanford, a very expensive elitist institution, which is still in large measure supported by tax payer funds. And this rapist and other star athletes, the chosen of the Family System, the ones I refer to as First Borns, they use it to gain a route to wealth and power, and at the expense of everyone else. There must be better ways to educate people, without reinforcing this culture of the Good Family, which operates by exploiting children and by those not so favored. For those who want to learn, supervised independent study, life long learning, would be better. All Stanford does is reinforce social hierarchy.

    And then when is someone going to speak up for the survivors of he middle-class family. We know from various experts that the levels of familial sexual molestation run around 1 in 4 for girls and 1 in 6 for boys. But does the popular consciousness and the imagery used for politics reflect anything like this?

    And while some familial abuse may not be sexual, but instead is psychological and physical, doesn’t it also relegate the survivor, “to a planet where I lived by myself”?

    And then we the survivors, when are we going to start standing up for ourselves, instead of getting shunted into psychotherapy, psychiatry, 12 step recovery, and evangelical churches?

    If we try to fight back alone, the we will likely be branded as psychopaths. But if we can organize and if we can gain some concrete political objectives, then we will have gone a long way in restoring our social legitimacy.

    But as it stands now, progress still evades us. We read of one Rachel Canning of New Jersey, a state where the law should have been more favorable to her. Her father being sexually inappropriate with her. Both of her parents subjecting her to denigration. So with the help of a brave lawyer she sued. But most of the media sided against her, she got a tongue lashing from the judge, and finally she had to apologize in court.

    http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/03/rachel_cannings_lawyer_why_she_sued_her_parents_opinion.html

    And it turns out that her parents had considered divorce. If they had divorced, under New Jersey law, Rachel would have been entitled to the money to finish high school and college that she wanted. And so you could say then that her parents’ marriage was at Rachel’s expense. And so how often is this true in other ways as well, that the child is being used to help the parents keep up public appearances, and so the marriage of the parents is at the expense of the child?

    And then the US remains alone in industrialized nations in allowing parents to disinherit their child. Why don’t we organize and change this? And why don’t we establish a legal mechanism for a child to claim an earlier property settlement when their is familial animosity?

    How many of us have listened to parents denigrating their child in public, and getting lots of sympathy over it. And why doesn’t anyone tell the parents to shut up and threaten that they would assist their child in a lawsuit?

    I listened in such a case and then went on to play a large role in getting the guy a lengthy sentence in our state prison. Each time I wrote to the court and the DA I emphasized that though he never told me anything which directly indicated guilt in his sexual molestation case, I was blown away by the amount of energy he had invested in scapegoating his eldest daughter.

    And I explained again and again that in his church, most everyone has a scapegoat child and a scapegoat sibling. And that talking about these persons is how one gains status in their church. Their Pastor talks about such issues regularly in his Sunday sermons. It is a direct extension of their theology which says that some are Saved and some are not. And a large portion of the church members have their own histories with alcohol, street drugs, and spousal abuse. So almost always the only failings of the scapegoat are simply the ways in which they are like their parents.

    And I have since seen how in more moderate churches the same things go on, but the language is just a little bit different. The condemnation is not so open.

    In trying to get as high of a sentence as possible for this guy, I emphasized to the court how the church teaches that no one must ever come forward with such familial abuse accusations. Everyone is supposed to forgive. I explained to the court that if the daughters had listened to their church and gone this way, then some decades down the road, failed marriages, failed attempts to get an education and build a career, then they too could become the targets for that church’s outreach ministry. Church volunteers go there and talk about their own scapegoat children, and tell people that their poverty and homelessness are their own fault, because they won’t accept Jesus. And that Jesus so loves them that he wants to give them a second chance, just so long as they admit that it is through their own rebelliousness that they destroyed their first chance.

    So as it stands now, we who are the scapegoats and survivors of the middle-class family, the ones who couldn’t live the denial systems, are forced into an underclass. We lack social legitimacy in any of the corridors of power. And yet we do nothing about this.

    F2F I am squaring off with a politician who writes about how she admired Nancy Reagan. Well one of the most interesting and brave books I have ever read was the one written by her daughter Patty. Why aren’t we organizing and following Patty’s brave example?

    As it stands now, remaining passive and allowing ourselves to be prey for Psychotherapy, Psychiatry, Psychiatric Medication, Recovery Groups, and Evangelical Religion, we are allowing the other side to use Social Darwinist and Eugenics arguments to further delegitimate us. In their eyes we are at best the objects of pity, and at worst persons not fit to live. And as it stands now, we are doing absolutely nothing whatsoever about this.

    So I say we need to organize, identify some tangible political objectives, and then act!

    Join my forum, use PM’s, exchange email addresses, and then act!
    http://freedomtoexpress.freeforums.org/

    Nomadic

  8. Wow, Sera, I always look forward to your posts and find them valuable, but this one was incredibly powerful! I’m so sorry you had to go through such trauma, and am doubly sorry that the adults/professionals who should have seen the obvious and helped protect and validate you did the opposite, hid their heads in the sand and blamed you for your own victimization. It is appalling to hear about, but sadly is not an uncommon experience in our warped culture. I really appreciate you sharing your personal experience, and especially the tie-in to how the “mental health” system ignored and exacerbated the situation with their slavish compliance to their own model of reality and their complete lack of empathy for your situation. I unfortunately see the same thing happen all the time to the foster kids I work with – they’ve been abused at home, forcibly removed and put with people they don’t know, separated from their siblings, pets, possessions, neighbors, extended family, school friends, teachers, etc., and given little to no sense of either why it happened or how long it will continue or what they can do to regain some control. And yet when they express rage, or anxiety, or hopelessness, or are distracted or unfocused on the daily trivia of school, they are told they are “mentally ill” instead of someone saying, “Gosh, you seem really angry! I sure would be, too, if I’d been through what you’re experiencing! Help me understand what you’re angry about and let’s see if there’s anything we can think of to make it a little better for you.” It is often received by the youth as insulting and condescending when they are told, as one kid put it, “Not only am I an abused foster kid, now I’m crazy, too?” Same kid once said, “They told me I had a chemical imbalance. Well, maybe different people have different chemical balances and should be allowed to have them. Why does everyone need the same “chemical balance” in their brains?”

    Blaming the victim or minimizing their experience is the most destructive and harmful thing someone could do. I am so glad you have brought this to light in such a powerful way.

    —- Steve

  9. Great article. I can really identify with some of the things you have said. It makes me so, so grateful to my therapist/psychiatrist for having kept me away from most of harms of institutionalised psychiatry despite a number of suicidal crises, particularly as one of my sexual assaults was by a psychiatric nurse (not someone with whom I had a professional relationship, but he was a mentor and volunteer leader and someone I’d turned to for advice and friendship; the assault was something I only recently revealed to my therapist).

  10. Dear Sera,

    Thanks once again for another beautifully written and poignant read. Thanks for baring witness to your own mirrored pain to yet another rape case. In speaking your own pain, you have, in turn, spoken to the pain that so many of us carry, myself included. Like you, sexual abuse is woven throughout my own story, a tapestry of pain and betrayal; a teaching to mistrust, to defend one’s vulnerability, to have no belief in equality or justice. It isn’t in any text book and we often only get sly allusions from our teachers which suggest that it is on us not to attract attention and not on men to not rape. That does not satisfy. The inequity is intolerable. It brings me to respond to your blog when it is more my habit to quietly hold this pain. The system was not created to support the victim of this crime. With a 6 month sentence, rape is a mere misdemeanor. Outraged.

    And to those who have repeatedly tried to highjack this thread: This conversation is about the rape culture in this country – period. I, personally, find it amazingly rude and disrespectful to invade the space that was created for that purpose. It is plainly apparent that you have energy around this other topic. Take it to another space as you clearly have little room for anything but like mindedness to a preposterous metaphor. Please, don’t respond to me. I’ve already been obliged to read too much and your opinion has already been voiced. This is mine.

    In solidarity, dear Sera. ~Lisa

    • Perhaps some people hijacked the thread because many people do not want to look at the rape culture that exists in this society. And it’s a rape culture that affects not only women but children too. Why is it that so many men believe that it’s their right to overpower someone else for their own gratification? I can’t believe that rape has anything to do with sex when you’re forcing yourself on someone else, especially children; it’s all about power and strength and force. I don’t believe that a lot of men want to look at this or talk about it so they sway the conversation away to areas that they’re more comfortable talking about. Slavery carried out by the state is such an amorphous topic, difficult to pinpoint anything concrete since it’s a lot of theory. Men raping children and women is very concrete and messy and not very fun to talk about.

  11. Thanks, Sera, this is a moving piece.

    I’ve been following this story and am glad it is getting a lot of attention and the rapist’s father and friend are getting publicly shamed. There is just no excuse calling Brock’s actions anything other than rape. Their weasel words are at the core of the problem. I noticed that the rapist has a sister. While I’d like to think that the father would feel differently if his daughter were the victim, I have the feeling he’d probably victim blame her too.

    I am a victim of incest, by my older (by three years) brother. It took me years to even see it as sexual abuse, since I was not physically forced. The coercion was more subtle…he basically convinced me that this was something normal that siblings did (he was telling me about how he read it was very common for siblings to do some sexual things , but what he manipulated me into doing was far more invasive than “playing doctor” types of activities he was actually referencing) and would prepare us for dating. I blamed myself for not acting differently, even though I was just an eleven year old kid. Like you, I have had a tendency to get into other situations where I let doubt creep in and others take advantage of me. I don’t think sexual abuse is the only reason for this, but if I’m being honest with myself, it is a contributor. My family doesn’t know because my mom is the kind of person who would say, “Well you were younger, but you were more mature than your brother and should have known better”.

    I really wish we would do a better job of sending the message that sexual abusers are usually not attackers hiding behind bushes, weird creepy teachers at school, etc. They are individuals you encounter everyday and many of them even seem like nice, upstanding people.

    @AVoiceRaised- completely agree that the rest of the people trying to hijack this thread are being very disrespectful. If you, as Steven said, just don’t want to talk about realities of sexual abuse, then fine, but please stop silencing our perspectives.

  12. Hi Sera

    Thanks for sharing with such intimate details some of the many ways in which trauma is inflicted upon women in this society and how that oppression is covered up and justified in our culture.

    Thanks for giving such a living example of how trauma can create insidious and disabling forms of personal “doubt.” To “doubt” one’s own judgement and interpretation of reality is very unsettling and heightens one’s anxiety by adding to a pervasive sense of “unpredictability” in one’s environment.

    You said: “I admire the woman who spoke out against Turner because she did something I did not do which is to speak out at all. But, perhaps more than anything, I admire her for speaking in a way that conveys so little doubt – in spite of all those who cast shadows around her.”

    If it is any consolation, one of the strengths of your writing is that you always seem to uncover and expose new layers of unrecognized forms of oppression in this society especially as it applies to sexism, racism, and psychiatric oppression. This leaves little “doubt” as to where you stand on these matters, and in my book, more than makes up for whatever you didn’t say in the past.

    Keep writing and speaking out in the way you do. You are helping ALL of us overcome personal self “doubt” by strengthening our ability to understand and interpret the world around us.

    Richard

  13. Sera, I just want to compliment you on a very powerful piece. Truly, one could not write such a piece without a strong sense of self, and of right and wrong. And I couldn’t agree more, psychiatric assault is a form of rape. In my opinion, as one who has dealt with date rape and forced treatment, I found psychiatric rape infinitely more traumatic and appalling. Especially given the psychiatrists’ goal of hoping to psychiatricly rape and torture me for the entirety of my life, with their fraudulent claims I had a proven “lifelong, incurable, genetic mental illness.”

    And, as one whose dealings with the psychiatric system stem from a pastor’s desire to have his psychologist and psychiatrist friends cover up the sodomy of my four year old child. Who now also understands the medical evidence is coming in showing that 92% of borderline labeled, and 82% of “psychotic” labeled, people are actually dealing with psych practitioners profiteering off of denying / relabeling child abuse concerns – which is illegal behavior.

    I absolutely believe our society must start to discuss this societal problem of psychiatric child abuse cover ups / relabeling. Because we cannot fix a problem, if we do not even acknowledge the problem exists. I do understand it’s profitable for the psychiatric profession to keep the child molesters on the streets raping more children, while defaming, tranquilizing, torturing, poisoning, and murdering the child abuse victims, or their concerned mothers. However, such behavior is not in the best interest of the majority in our society, which is why it is technically illegal.

  14. Your mother knew, Sera. Not cognitively, perhaps. But on a gut level, she knew. The way he touched your hair made her uneasy.

    That uneasy feeling is something we used to call “women’s intuition” and if it got the respect it deserves, instead of being brushed aside as dumb or crazy, she would have had the sense to act on it. My own mother is such a mixed bag– she did a lot of damage to her children, given the upbringing she’d had to work with, but she never let *anyone* dismiss her intuitions and she never dismissed ours, either. Some of the things she taught me about being a woman were really messed up (!!) but she made certain I understood my intuition, how to recognize its messages, and most important, to ALWAYS respect it. She explained that it is encoded in our earliest DNA, from the time before our lunking brains created societies that told us to disregard/conquer our baser instincts, when we knew we were part of the food chain, and had to be keenly aware of danger. That first whiff of danger doesn’t come from the nose, it comes from within– that uneasy feeling– that makes us pay closer attention to what is going on around us. She didn’t discount my brother’s intuition, either. But she felt women have a stronger innate sense of it, likely due to the increased danger pregnancy presents. She taught us to use our intuition, to respect it, and to not be dissuaded by others who don’t have respect for theirs. I wish all mothers did this– planted a seed of confidence in the innate ways of knowing that we all possess but have been talked out of by ‘authorities’ who assure us we are wrong and they are right.

    Please, mothers, teach your daughters to truly value themselves as women, not just their women’s bodies, but their women’s wisdom too!

    • Upon re-reading, I realized this sounds perhaps judgemental: “That uneasy feeling is something we used to call “women’s intuition” and if it got the respect it deserves, instead of being brushed aside as dumb or crazy, she would have had the sense to act on it.”

      That was not my intention, so please allow me to clarify:
      Ever since the Enlightenment, we have been taught to elevate Science (that which can be observed and measured with the physical senses) far above Mysticism (that which cannot be observed and measured). We’ve been taught that knowledge is solely the monopoly of Science. Any claim of knowing that is based on the unseen is scoffed at as superstition, or pathologized as madness. Only with the advent of technology that allowed for observations at the quantum level did scientists begin to question this basic underlying assumption, and we now know, for instance, that the mere attention we pay in the act of observing changes the outcome. But we have all bought into this idea that scientific knowledge, gained by controlling the variables and testing the hypotheses, is inherently valid whereas other ways of knowing are inherently dubious.

      Now, my dear mother started out with such a lot in life that she did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being deemed as an average, normal person. Being on the fringe of society was where she would always reside, unless she was willing to completely subsume/sacrifice so much of herself that she would have little to no authenticity left. She was always unable and/or unwilling to do that. (For that alone, she is my hero!) She accepted her role as Other, embraced it even. She scoffs at Normal, sees through the saran wrap the emperor calls clothes in a lot of ways, and refuses to abandon or adjust those parts of her that mark her as an outcast.

      I’ve read quite a few of your posts (you being one of my favorite authors on this site, I’ve gone back into the archives to read more) and your mother sounds pretty normal. Our society, the way girls are trained to be gracious, makes it a rare exception that a woman would pay any attention to the things that give her “that uneasy feeling” let alone know how to open that channel to inner knowledge, and interpret the feeling and act on it. Left-brain, rational thinking rules supreme. But to negate the other ways of knowing sets us up for such dysfunctional imbalance, and denies us the benefit of our intuition, which I believe is our birthright as women.

  15. Sera, are you serious? Are the people making comments about how the subject of slavery is unrelated to rape serious? When, in the entire history of the world, were the two unrelated? When someone commits rape they are treating you like property, an object. Where did the rapist get the idea it was even possible to treat someone like property, like an object they could do with as they like? From slavery. Do you really believe rape is an apolitical subject–that it has nothing to do with the power of the state or politics? Rape is an extremely powerful political tool. It says, “I own you.” And slavery says, “I own you.” And these two are unrelated? If you talk of rape, you should expect the subject of slavery to come up. If you don’t want to hear of slavery, why speak of rape? People do one to have the other. They are intimately connected, they are bedfellows, they go hand in hand, one begets the other, they are inseparable. Rape is about enslavement, and enslavement is about rape. One of the primary motivations for enslaving people is having the freedom to rape at will. Hijacked? Really? Of all the blog posts, this is the last one I would expect to get this reaction to raising the subject of slavery. And why does “comparison” keep coming up? I said I was NOT making a comparison.

    • “Where did the rapist get the idea it was even possible to treat someone like property, like an object they could do with as they like? From slavery.”

      No, the rapist most likely got the idea from his misogynistic father, who taught him whatever he did in a mere “20 minutes of action” doesn’t matter, and that he can use alcohol as a scapegoat for his behavior. He may have also gotten the idea from from his peers at the party who didn’t stop him from making advances on an unconscious woman. These are the relevant issues to the discussion, not some tangent about slavery and racism.

      “If you talk of rape, you should expect the subject of slavery to come up.”

      As someone who has been sexually abused and talked to other abuse/assault victims, my only experience of talking about abuse and slavery together has been in a historical context, or when talking about places where rape is being currently used as a political tool like Syria, not a college party. This blog is about women’s psychological responses to abuse/assault and how that instills a sense of doubt which primes them for other kinds of abuse/assault down the line.

      • What does the color of anyone’s skin have to do with what I am talking about? And what does history have to do with it? There is currently slavery the world over that has nothing to do with skin color. It has to do with economic status, or class, or caste, or belonging to a religious minority, or any number of other things that allow people to devalue, use, and abuse someone “beneath” them. And what does racism have to do with it? If we could get rid of racism tomorrow we would still have slavery as it is allowed in the Constitution and backed by the Supreme Court. The State could still do whatever it liked with you in State institutions like prisons and psychiatric wards. After the Civil War slavery was simply moved from one side of the room to the other, then everyone changed the subject. It became all about racism and the Civil Rights Movement. The trouble is, slavery never ended, and that is why we are still talking about every kind of human rights abuse and violation, helpless to stop it, and receiving no help from the government or the courts.

        • As I said above, rape, slavery, enforced psychiatry are all forms of oppression that can be parsed in many different ways. There are most definitely similarities between them, but also differences, yet they all fall under the rubric of OPPRESSION, the use of political or personal power to dominate another person and force them to do your will despite their lack of willingness and the inevitable harm to them as a result. There is intersection between all these and other forms of oppression. Slicing and dicing the semantic differences or similarities between one and another form of oppression doesn’t really forward the discussion. We can all agree that slavery, rape, and psychiatric force have a great number of overlaps and are all oppressive efforts to subdue another to one’s will, with an attendant set of justifications based on privilege and power. We don’t all have to agree with each other about which word subsumes which other word to agree that these forms of oppression have much in common and are all worthy of battling to the last breath.

          —- Steve

          • Amendment XIII Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, EXCEPT as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
            Last time I checked the meaning of EXCEPT had not changed. Because of Section 1. we have more people enslaved (incarcerated is a euphemism) than before the Civil War. Because of Section 2. we have nightmares like the Murphy Bill. There is no worse crime than slavery, and the biggest criminals in this country, arguably the world, are sitting in Congress, in the White House, and on the Supreme Court. Semantics??? Give me a break!

          • How on earth can anyone say we are “fighting oppression” as long as we ignore the legalized slavery sanctioned by the Constitution that is the cause of the worst, most harmful oppression and makes the U.S. officially a slave State? That makes no sense no matter how you “parse” “all forms of oppression.”

          • Sera

            Since you couldn’t resist responding to Steve on this subject and because you leave little “doubt” where you stand on major issues (a trait for which I recently praised you) neither can I resist responding to a contentious issue where much “doubt” appears to exist as to what is or isn’t appropriate

            I hope someone does write a blog on this topic for if they do I will probably have a lot to say as I’m sure others will as well.

            You said: ” The appropriation of the word ‘slavery’ by white people, particularly in instances where they are being told by people of color that it is offensive and yet they still feel empowered to take ownership of it…

            I must point out that slavery existed long before the African slave trade and the institution of American slavery. In the very beginnings of its existence slavery was color blind.

            Going back to the earliest stages of human history with the transition from more primitive communal societies to the taking of slaves (as these groupings and tribes connected in hostile ways with competing groups in common territories) slavery developed as an alternative to killing perceived enemies.

            Slaves built the famous pyramids and we mustn’t forget that there was a class of slaves in the socieies that brought forth all the much touted and revered Greek and Roman enlightened philosophers and political theorists.

            And Karl Marx, who wrote extensively about the American Civil War (with a penetrating economic and political analysis) coined the term “wage slavery” to describe the relationship of the working classes in a capitalist society to the nature of the economic and political system. Workers who were no longer owned but now had to sell their labor power to the highest bidding capitalist in order to survive.

            While Marx was not equating “wage slavery” to the actual institution of slavery, he was still making it clear that it was just a higher form of slavery where working people were still not completely free if they had to sell part of their being to the propertied classes for their own survival.

            When discussing true freedom and where society must go in the future there is much to be learned from the writings of Marx and Engels.

            I must go at this time but I felt a compelling need to throw this into the mix.

            Richard

  16. Hi Sera,

    This article raised some highly emotive issues for me, for reeasons that I will not explain.

    I did though ponder why there seems so much confusions and disagreement about the issue of slavery. My thoughts on the above debate and the confusion are this. When we speak of slavery are we not speaking about the violation of black men, women and children? Though this article, as is made clear takes a turn at an intersection:
    “For example, how do these attitudes about girls and women and their bodies serve as a sort of preparatory ‘class’ for the systems that will bind them just a little further down the road? How does one lead to another?”
    I see no denial that rape, and the threat of rape is the ‘System” is not an issue for men, merely that it would be an issue that you would have little ability to speak about from personal experience. There is no doubt that rape and the threat of rape is used regularly to oppress men.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZGd25l6sH0

    One would not need to look very far to see how this is done, particularly in prison environments. And I believe it is up to men to speak about this as an issue.

    The “system” deals with men and women (and children) in different ways where the rights to consent and bodily integrity are concerned.
    So I think that the reason for confusion and disagreement about this article has resulted from this. Because I do not believe for a moment that you are denying my experiences and trauma that has resulted from other men (and yes in my instance it was other men) who have failed to accept my right to consent and bodily integrity.

    I apologize for my inability to express myself clearly on this but felt I needed to try.

    Kind regards
    Boans

  17. Great, great questions. I am taking a stab at responding, from what popped up for me as I read them. This is kind of off-the-cuff–

    “What responsibility should people working in the system take for the traumas they are a part of inflicting?”

    At least take steps to transition to another job/field, and then quit. I believe that would be the most important thing to do, separate from the system altogether. If one is working for a traumatizing system (of ‘health care,’ no less), more than likely, one has taken on the trauma, to some degree, as it is unhealthful to be in a toxic environment for a prolonged period of time, for anyone at all. The more sensitive people feel it without a doubt and can be afraid to speak up, as these are fear-mongering environments which create paranoia, among other things; and for the less sensitive people–or the more dissociated ones–it kind of sneaks up on you, I think. But it affects anyone that is human, I believe. So I say, get out, for everyone’s sake.

    Then, there is the option of communicating to someone with some kind of power (I think funders are a good target, they have all the say) about exactly what goes on, how the system is abusive. And they’ll want examples. For me, they were clear, I could name names and say exactly how these actions were abusive and traumatic to where it would make sense to most people, at least to those whose only agenda truly was justice, for the greater good.

    “How can that conversation happen without those in power simply continuing to silence it out of fear, shame, or self-protection?”

    I don’t see a conversation happening, I see the action of separation and boycott. I think that would be the example to follow. Takes courage, and this is the time for it. Again, we’re talking about social toxicity, it will seep into the discussion as well and go around in circles. Been there, done it.

    “And, even if we can grant a pass to those who have taken part in actions and words that harm for not fully understanding their role at the time… what do we demand from them now in terms of recognition, reparations and being a part of how to change things moving forward?”

    I think if they can be persuaded to see their role in how the system is functioning as toxic, abusive, and traumatic for people, en masse, then they can be offered support in exchange for telling the truth, and using whatever influence they have to speak their truth about what they witnessed and experienced in the system.

    Good stuff to chew on, these are essential questions I think. Thank you, Sera.

  18. I have to take issue with you about one matter in your post here, Sera, and that is that I don’t see anti-psychiatry as a label, and you apparently do. Anti-psychiatry, in other words, only represents a label to people who don’t identify with anti-psychiatry. The problem is that some of those mainstream bio-psychiatry folks basically refer to all critics of conventional psychiatry as anti-psychiatry. So where do we go from here? Anti-psychiatry is a label only to folks who don’t see themselves as anti-psychiatry in the first place, but not to people who identify as anti-psychiatry? I prefer to just think of most critics of psychiatry as not being anti-psychiatry at all, but as advocates for critical psychiatry, and “alternative” psychiatry, and go from there. “Schizophrenia”, “bipolar disorder”, and”obsessive compulsive disorder” may be “diagnostic labels”, however anti-psychiatry is no disease, and can’t really be said to be a diagnostic label, although perhaps some psychiatrists would like to see it as such.

  19. I just came across a very similar-sounding case (though I do not have the details.)

    “…District Attorney Lacey also recognized Scott Angel Aquino, Richard Mason Jr. and Eddie Harris, who stopped the sexual assault of a woman in Alhambra on March 3, 2015, and captured her assailant. The suspect was convicted of assault with intent to commit a sex crime and sentenced to six years in prison.”

    http://da.co.la.ca.us/about/inside-LADA/courageous-honorees-celebrated