Friday, November 9, 2018

Better Together – Address Race & Privilege

By Cordelia Anderson, MA

The theme of ATSA’s 37th Annual Conference, “Better Together” felt desperately needed against blatant hate speech, and acts of racial bias that has become more prevalent, and supported, in our neighborhoods, as well as in our social media, news media, civil discourse, and politics.  I had all this in mind as I listened to Elder Gerald Oleman, one of the 2018 ATSA Conference keynotes. He drew from his personal experience and Indigenous history to address why racism is so important to understand, especially in our work that is so linked to treating trauma. Elder Oleman pointed out that Europeans have a different culture and explained, “when it hit ours, it was a tsunami that flattened us, and we are still trying to stand back up.” He described colonization as “complete political and economic control over indigenous people and their land”. He gave several examples of how this shows up with so many “images of indigenous people as less than.”

In May of 2017, the ATSA Prevention Committee started to discuss various ways that addressing privilege and race fit with strategies to prevent sexual violence.  The discussions included the research showing that entitlement and dominance are core contributors both to sexually aggressive behavior (e.g., Knight & Guay, 2018; Malamuth, 2003) and to the maintenance of privilege and the continuance of racial prejudice.   Given the conversations in the public domain, ATSA has a unique voice to contribute to this conversation.  We also discussed that we may not be fully addressing this issue within our own work and that ATSA should be concerned with considering privilege and race not only as they impact the exacerbation of sexual harassment and sexually coercive behavior, but also as they affect ATSA’s therapeutic and prevention focus. (adapted wording from ATSA Executive Survey Summary, 2018).

At the October 2017 ATSA Conference, the Prevention Committee sponsored a well-received panel to discuss these issues.  During this past year, as a follow-up to this discussion, the Committee developed a survey to learn how ATSA members view these issues and their interest in ATSA taking further action. With 375 ATSA members responding, this is what we learned:

Ø  87% of survey respondents endorsed either “agree” or “strongly agree” to statements indicating that race and privilege had an impact on perpetration, survivors’ healing process, and prevention of sexual violence.

Ø  Surprisingly, respondents suggested that race and privilege had less of an impact on various areas of their own work (i.e., an average of 76%). This merits follow-up to determine if it reflects resistance to addressing this issue in their own work.

Ø  The majority of survey respondents affirmed the overall need for ATSA to address issues related to race and privilege (76%).

Based on the outcomes of the survey, the Prevention Committee made recommendations to the ATSA Board to explore ways that ATSA as an organization and in our membership can address issues of race and privilege in our work. Alison Hall, co-chair prevention committee and ATSA Board of Directors member, reported that ATSA’s Board of Directors has formally “recognized that race and privilege impact ATSA’s work, and the work of ATSA members. Furthermore, the board voted to ensure that ATSA commits to incorporate privilege and race issues into all its strategic goals.”  Each of ATSA’s committees will be looking at how race and privilege affect their work.  The Prevention Committee is further exploring member responses through a series of interviews that were conducted during the recent ATSA Conference.  We hope to be able to provide some of the resources that were requested during these interviews and through the surveys. 

The interest and ATSA’s Board of Director’s response are essential to shine a light on the intersection between entitlement, privilege and racism and the work needed to prevent sexual violence. Going back to Elder Oleman’s keynote, he explained that “People that lose their way start to harm people.”  He asked the audience “What can we do for the children to prevent this from happening?”  Part of what we can do is to continue to understand the privileges we each have and how they can be used in constructive rather than destructive ways. Prevention involves working to overcome the “othering” that allows people to be treated as objects or commodities that are less than. As we struggle to not be hooked by our fears, but instead to understand to build on our connections between prevention, research, policy, and treatment, between the voices of those harmed and those who created the harm and across races, cultures, genders, and sexual identities religions. We can bring depth and action to the conference theme; we are indeed “better together:”

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Changes to the blogging team...

Dear Blog readers,

We have recently had some changes here at the Sexual Abuse Blog with Alissa Ackerman deciding to step back from active blogging. David and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alissa for all her hard work on the blog over the last year. Alissa's blogs have always been insightful, critical and pertinent; she has brought a victim focus to the blog and insightful edge through her contributions. We wish her luck for the future and will always positively receive any future blogs that she would like to submit. So farewell, rather than goodbye!
Talk soon,
Kieran & David.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Even Folks in Our Field Get the Blues: When Implementation of Best Practices Goes Wrong, Part 2

By David S. Prescott, LICSW

This is part 2 of a 2 part blog, part 1 can be found here – Kieran

This post picks up where the last one left off. The context is that a participant in a training recently described frustration with implementing Motivational Interviewing in their practice.  This echoed a concern I’d seen expressed in social media. As the discussion progressed, another participant expressed similar experiences. Although small in number, their concerns were important: There can be side effects when adjusting to the use of positive, collaborative, strengths-based approaches such as Motivational Interviewing (MI) and the Good Lives Model (GLM). How can this be? What can we do?

Beyond the considerations mentioned earlier (context, status of working alliance, etc.), a factor that has often gone under-appreciated until recently is the effect of early trauma and other adverse experiences. From the outset, clearly trauma and adversity can be difficult concepts to work with. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to the next, while many people (including professionals in our field) appear to develop extreme strength and resilience in the aftermath of abuse.

Further, what can appear as traumatic to the person who experiences it may not be in the eyes of others. This becomes especially difficult to understand when the experience(s) took place at an early age, when the client had not yet developed the necessary language skills to describe his or her experiences. As one person once stated it, “From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand, and from the inside looking out it’s hard to describe.”

Finally, in some cases, the uncertainties involved in sexual development can combine with mental health conditions to create unusual situations. For example, one ATSA pre-conference workshop several years ago focused on a person on the Autism spectrum who had somehow been deeply affected by watching cartoons while masturbating, with the end result being a very rare form of sexual disorder in early adulthood. Although a statistical outlier, a deep understanding of how the events in his life had affected his development was critical to understanding him and providing treatment.

Any of these scenarios can combine to make clients appear challenging, unmotivated, or written off with such language as, “He just doesn’t get it.” Consider the following statement from a person in a community-based residential program. He has a history of trauma who was found not quite competent to stand trial. When asked to describe a seemingly innocuous event from the preceding week, he says: “I can’t… Ummm…. It doesn’t matter… Look, never mind.” Imagine that this has actually been similar to past responses to questions about his current status; discussing his past behaviors has been virtually impossible, and when it occurs ends in his experiencing shame and hopelessness.

In this client’s case it can be easy to assume that he is unwilling to participate meaningfully in treatment despite his statements that he wants to do what he needs to complete the program and return to the community. It’s easy to think that his statement translates directly into “I don’t want to talk with you, and I am not going to let you know that. Instead, I’m going to feign being upset.” While this translation may be partially true, it likely isn’t the entire story in this case. This pattern of responding might also translate as, “The only reason I’ve survived my life up to this point is because I am constantly evaluating my environment for evidence of threats. Now you are asking me to look inside my own experience, and I’ve never developed meaningful skills for that. Also, my words have been used against me much of my life, and I don’t understand how you can expect me to trust you so quickly. On top of that, I’ve never developed the kind of language skills to express to you how hard it is for me to view the world as anything but a dangerous place. You want me to talk. I can’t do that safely right now. The only option I can see is to shut down. If you keep pushing, I may need to become violent.

Ultimately, the move to trauma-informed care is not about helping people feel as though they are passive victims of a cruel world. It’s about understanding how events shape people at the individual level, one client at a time, and designing interventions that they can respond to, in adherence to the responsivity principle of effective corrections.