The Uncomfortable Truth: Psych Wards and Sexual Assault


From The Independent: “Sexual assault and harassment is ‘commonplace’¬†on inpatient psychiatric wards, according to Dr Paul Lelliott, the deputy chief inspector of hospitals and mental¬†health¬†lead at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), following the publication of¬†an important national report this week. This is not news to psychiatric patients, who have been raising the issue for more than¬†50 years. Will this report provide the¬†#MeToo¬†wake-up call on sexual violence that mental health services desperately need? Or will the currents of denial, avoidance, victim blaming and silencing that swirl around sexual assault, and which psychiatric discourse specifically enable, block progress as they have time and time again?

Society at large has only begun to move beyond this kind of discourse in recent years because of the new wave of feminism that has shone a light on the devaluing of women and gaslighting that has, historically, been used to protect figures of authority. Mental health services retain a language and set of patriarchal practices that allow people in power to shut down testimony that demonstrably keeps people who have been assaulted and abused locked in a situation, psychically and on our acute wards, where silence feels safer than speaking out.

The need for change becomes even more pressing given the¬†huge percentage of psychiatric patients, especially inpatients, who have been sexually abused¬†in early life. Divorcing these kinds of experiences from mental breakdown serves to reinforce abuser‚Äôs frequent messages that there is something fundamentally wrong with survivors, rather than providing a space where sense can be made of how and why someone might come to, as examples, dissociate, hallucinate or experience the self as fragmented as a desperate attempt to maintain psychic agency in the face of sexual violence. Nursing survivors in an environment where sexual assault and harassment is ‘commonplace,’ as happens today, is nothing less than an outrage that actively sends out a message that nothing much can change, re-traumatising survivors and eviscerating hope.”

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  1. Well one problem is there actually is something fundamentally wrong with many survivors of early/chronic or violent sexual trauma and it is that precisely which society does not wish to face because the apologists have successfully turned the effects of sexual trauma into a chicken and egg problem via the biomedical model of mental illness.

    Our current ‚Äúevidenced-based‚ÄĚ thinking says the egg was to blame all along and any environmental traumas merely exacerbated what was already there genetically, waiting to erupt. Trauma experts, mad pride/psychiatric survivors (and farmers everywhere) know the meat will be bad if you abuse the chicken. But even if the egg *were* flawed, why do we excuse the effects of abuse and blame bad genes when theoretically, our most sensitive and delicate children (whom are supposedly genetically susceptible to what is termed mental illness) are literally the most vulnerable members of our society and yet also somehow the easiest to blame? Bad genetics. Poof. Uncle Fester is off the hook for buggering little Johnny. And when he shoots up his school in ten years, somehow conveniently, he‚Äôll have schizophrenia. Bad genes. Poof. All better.

    But hey, don’t worry. It’s all going to work out to get those bad genes out of the gene pool. Yesterday’s headline news said low sperm count has increased seven-fold in men over the last 15 years. Soon our environments will be so toxic that few will be able to reproduce naturally anyway. And when those who are deserving (rich) go to the fertility clinic, their embryos will be screened for all these bad genes. Problem solved.

    I’ve probably been reading too much dystopian reality (news) lately. Hope has long since been eviscerated.

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    • I’ve often said how senseless it is to focus all this energy on genetics, which is the one thing about a person you CAN’T alter, and take it off the environment, which is ultimately highly modifiable given sufficient motivation and skill (whether society’s or an individual’s motivation, it’s still modifiable.) So what if some people are more ‘susceptible’ to PTSD genetically? QUIT FREAKIN’ TRAUMATIZING PEOPLE and the ones who are more ‘vulnerable’ will be just fine!!!

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