Category: Domestic Violence

Feature-2-470x260-71fb5dd57073cc4f698cf11d7fa163570b6b47cc

Branding Tattoos Use Ink to Violate Women

00Anger, Body Image, Bullying, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Gender July, 16

Source: THOR on Flickr

Latishia Sanchez was fourteen when she was attacked and raped by five men, including her boyfriend. During the assault, the men tattooed her boyfriend’s name across her neck using a needle and pencil lead.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, fifty percent of all Canadian women will experience at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. This can take many forms; recently tattoo branding has become a popular form of violence against women.

As a weapon of domestic violence, perpetrators use ink to assert control and ownership over victims, either physically forcing them to get tattoos, or drugging and tattooing them while they are unconscious. The offender’s name is usually forced onto a visible part of the victim’s body.

Six years after she was attacked and branded, Latishia Sanchez continues to relive the painful memories of her rape. In an interview with CBS News, she describes that seeing the tattoo daily has devastated her self-esteem:

“I didn’t think that I’d get raped, let alone my boyfriend allowing it. Right now our mirrors are covered up because I can’t even look at myself.”

Jennifer Kempton, a survivor of human trafficking, remains traumatized from her experiences of branding violence in the human sex trade in Columbus, Ohio. In an interview with The Guardian, she recalls how a pimp tied her down and tattooed “Property of Salem” above her groin, marking her as his possession. Kempton explains that the shame and trauma associated with this incident caused her to spiral into a deep depression and attempt suicide:

“Every time I took a shower or tried to look at my body I was reminded of the violence and exploitation I’d suffered. I was so grateful to be alive, but having to see those names on your body every day puts you in a state of depression. You begin to wonder whether you’ll ever be anything but the person those tattoos say you are.”

Sanchez and Kempton are currently seeking tattoo removal treatment. Dawn Maestas, a tattoo removal specialist and domestic abuse survivor explains the horrors of tattoo violence in an interview with CBS News:

“I’ve had victims who have been drugged and tattooed, who have been physically held down and force tattooed, and I get angry. I get angry because I know what these tattoos mean. This is control. This is ‘you belong to me.’”

Maestas is not alone in the fight to end ink violence against women. Chris Baker, a tattoo artist in Chicago and owner of tattoo parlor Ink180, is known for offering free cover-up tattoo and removal services for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking.

Ink180’s mission is to “transform pain into something beautiful,” for survivors of branding violence. The tattoo parlor also has a clause on its website describing work it will not do, including tattoos that are gang related, satanic in nature, vulgar, or degrading to women.

Since the shop expanded its services to abuse survivors, Baker estimates that he has completed over 2,000 free cover-ups or removals. Though his shop offers regular, paid tattoos as well, over 80 percent of the work he does is pro bono.

One of the most common types of tattoos Baker sees is barcodes. These actually serve atracking system for pimps who brand victims with their contact information to monitor the behaviour of their sex workers. In an interview with The 700 Club, Baker describes the experience of removing barcode tattoos from a fifteen-year-old sex trafficking survivor:

“The relief on her face, you could feel the pain she had been through trying to get rid of old tattoos that defined her past.”

Baker’s shop features both a prayer wall and ‘Freedom Tree’ for survivors of abuse. Once their tattoos are removed, women can place a handprint on the tree symbolizing their newfound freedom and identity. Baker explains:

“They are very shattered people. I can’t even use the word broken, because their psyche is very fragile. We’ve had girls collapse on the floor in tears, because they no longer need to look in the mirror and see that barcode on their neck, or their abusive ex-boyfriend’s name on their hands.”

In an interview with Huffington Post, Baker urged other tattoo parlors to consider offering similar services and spread awareness of tattoo violence. For him, the rewards are worth the free work:

“I see the look on their faces when a domestic violence survivor doesn’t have to look down at their ex-husband’s name on their wrist or arm. I see that relief that he’s physically gone from their lives and they’re physically safe, but now they’re mentally safe as well.”

–Lauren Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

10Child Development, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Relationships, Trauma January, 16

Source: David Dávila Vilanova/Flickr

In her 2012 TED talk on domestic violence, Leslie Morgan Steiner discusses what she calls “crazy love,” the irrational and often deadly tendency to be oblivious to the red flags that indicate you are sharing your life with an abusive partner.

After discussing the typical situations that often lead to an abusive relationship, Steiner states that by asking the  question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” we are blaming the victim for falling in love with someone who would go on to abuse them.

While Steiner was not a victim of childhood abuse, many women and men who find themselves in similar situations are.

Victims are never at fault; no one asks to be victimized by their relationship partner. But for those who do have a prior history of abuse and who might find themselves in repetitive abusive cycles, what ability do they have to become aware of their vulnerability to future abuse?  And more important, could such awareness be helpful to them?

When children witness or experience abuse, it can have a detrimental effect on their well being as an adult.  Their experiences have been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders later in life.  Early exposure can also place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing abusive relationships in the future.

Joanna Iwona Potkanska, a Toronto-based social worker and trauma-informed psychotherapist says, “We tend to remain in patterns that are familiar to us.   We often do not realize that the relationships we are in are abusive, especially if we grew up in dysfunctional families.”

Based on British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s original work on attachment, theorists view the attachment style one develops as a child as related to adult relational patterns.  Internal understanding of how relationships work derives from primary caregivers and is the basis of later interactions.

“It would be foolish to say that observing domestic abuse from a young age doesn’t have an impact on a person’s future relationships.  It contributes to the construction of a child’s belief system – on how a relationship should be and what it should look like,” says Whitney Wilson, a counselor for the Partner Assault Response program at the John Howard Society of Toronto.

Wilson considers exposure to early domestic abuse as altering one’s view of romantic relationships in many ways.  “It’s similar to having a parent that smokes; smoking becomes normalized and may influence your decision to smoke.  Or, you may dislike that your parent smokes and swear off it.  It really depends on your lived experience and how it affects the formation of your beliefs.”

According to Potkanska, when we experience interpersonal trauma, whether physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual, we often lose our sense of self.  The abuse becomes part of our story and is deeply internalized.

She says that when offenders are also caregivers, victims most often blame themselves.  “The idea that we are loved as we are being abused, or that we are being abused because we are loved(many perpetrators use this excuse to justify their actions) can become a template for the way we relate to the world and ourselves.”

So, if a woman grows up with a model of relationships that involved abuse, anger, and shame, will she believe that she deserves a different kind of relationship?  Or might she believe that a relationship based on support and love simply does not exist?

It depends…  The way people make sense of their early relationships, and the conclusions they draw from them, depend a good deal on what occurs in other important relationships in their lives.  And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of counseling and psychotherapy.

By working with a therapist, individuals can learn to identify how they interpret experiences based on ‘old information’ and can learn to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Potkanska says that “without learning how to set healthy boundaries, we allow others to harm us and we re-enact conscious or unconscious situations in an attempt to have either a different outcome, or to reinforce what we already believe about ourselves.”

Healthy attachments to other supportive family members and mentors can buffer the effects of childhood abuse.  For those not fortunate enough to experience positive relationships growing up, there are other ways to break the cycle.

The connection a survivor builds with their therapist is meant to act as a model for secure attachment.  This can then translate to the way the individual perceives themselves and how they interact with others.

Potkanska emphasizes safety and space within the therapeutic relationship, noting that “Simple actions like ensuring that adequate physical space exists between myself and my client shows that I respect their boundaries.”

A large part of the therapy process focuses on building an identity that is separate from the abuse.

“Romantic partners and relationships become a way to soothe and regulate, and so when clients are taught to self-soothe, they are less likely to look to their partner to provide what their perpetrator has failed to do. They eventually rely more on themselves and other resources, including healthy relationships, to meet their needs,” says Potkanska.

Even with therapy, breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult.  Building an identity separate from abuse can take years of self-work, and often people cannot afford therapy or have limited access to resources.

And then there are the socio-political causes that force people to remain in abusive situations.  Potkanska points out, “Without adequate financial support, women and children are reliant on their perpetrators.  Our legal system does a poor job at protecting survivors of violence, even after they leave the abuser.”  Not only that, but it is usually after the victim has left that they are in the most danger.  Simply because, as Leslie Morgan Steiner states, “the abuser has nothing left to lose.”

So what do people who’ve experienced abuse as children, but go on to have normal and healthy relationships do so differently?

According to Wilson, “It’s really an active process for all of us, even those who were not abused.  Because we’ve allowed society to normalize things like verbal or emotional abuse you have to really know what a healthy relationship looks like and know that it’s hard work.”

Being in a healthy relationship is about giving yourself permission not to have to accept abuse.  And for many, that takes practice.  You have to first identify that you’re stuck in a cycle of violence, and then decide you have the right to break it.

– Jana Vigor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

00Anger, Attachment, Domestic Violence, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Oxytocin, Relationships July, 15

Source: dgzgomoo2/Flickr

For years the scientific study of relationships has centered on the hormone oxytocin. Made in our brains and traveling through our blood, oxytocin is said to be the physiological glue that brings humans together. It makes us trust and become attached to one another.

During childbirth, oxytocin is released in large amounts to help facilitate uterine contractions, to encourage milk production during lactation, and to enhance maternal-child bonding. The hormone can also offer relief for chronic pain sufferers and is released during sexual intimacy, connecting us emotionally to our partners.

Oxytocin is known for its ability to strengthen social bonds. But as hormones are complex, surprising new research points to a potentially dangerous side of oxytocin: High levels may be associated with relationship violence.

Because of oxytocin’s associations to social behaviour, researchers have studied the use of oxytocin to treat interpersonal symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and personality disorders. In 2003, Eric Hollander, psychiatry professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed abnormal oxytocin levels in people with ASD. When he administered oxytocin to them, it improved speech comprehension and recognition of emotions, important factors for establishing relationships.

Paul Zak, economist at Claremont Graduate University, says that oxytocin is responsible for behaviours like empathy, cooperation, and trust. In one study, he tempted participants with money, and found that those who inhaled oxytocin, compared to a control group, were more willing to give their money to a stranger. That is, those in the experimental group were more trusting.

Since oxytocin is naturally released during intimate moments, Zak prescribes eight hugs a day to make us happier and warmer people. But as with all medical science, oxytocin is complicated. And its catchy nicknames may be misleading.

Recent research by psychologist Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues demonstrated that oxytocin may be a factor in abusive relationships, if the abusive individual is already an aggressive person.

DeWall initially measured the underlying aggressive tendencies of male and female undergraduates. Participants were randomly split into two groups and unknowingly inhaled oxytocin or a placebo spray.

DeWall then created stressful situations that are known to elicit aggression. He asked the subjects to give a public speech to an unsupportive audience, and later experience the uncomfortable pain of an ice-cold bandage placed on their forehead.

Individuals then rated how likely they would be to engage in specific violent acts toward their current or most recent romantic partner; for example, to “throw something at [their] partner that could hurt.”

Oxytocin increased inclinations toward intimate partner violence (IPV), but only in participants who were prone to physical aggression.

Similarly, a study by Jennifer Bartz, a psychiatry professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, shows that oxytocin hinders trust and cooperation in persons with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by pervasive instability in moods, behaviours, and interpersonal relationships.

Notably, DeWall’s experiment took place in a laboratory setting, and it’s an open question as to whether this finding is generalizable to actual violent behaviour in domestic relationships.

DeWall explains that oxytocin is linked to maintaining relationships by keeping the ones we love close. For those with aggressive tendencies, preserving a relationship can mean controlling or dominating the partner with physical and emotional abuse.

In his book The Other Side of Normal, Harvard psychiatrist, Jordan Smoller explains that prior trauma in relationships gives a “negative colouring” to trust and intimacy. Oxytocin is still released when unhealthy relationships form; it just becomes associated with relationship trauma and contributes to unhealthy attachments.

Oxytocin is imperative for human connection, but it seems that past experience and interpersonal predispositions complicate oxytocin’s social-bonding capabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 960,000 domestic violence incidents occur every year. While only in its preliminary stages, DeWall’s research helps us better understand the complicated minds of offenders, and offers hope for preventing domestic violence.

– Shira Yufe, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

159485-163809

Letters to My Daughter

00Bias, Domestic Violence, Education, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Health, Politics, Resilience, Teamwork, Trauma September, 14

We have heard countless stories speaking to the injustices and brutalities faced by women in Afghanistan. In Letters to My Daughters, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan woman writes about her personal experiences living in Afghanistan during the civil war.

A member of parliament in Afghanistan, Koofi, 35, is chairperson of the standing committee on human rights and civil society, and a candidate for the presidential elections in 2014.

Her book is a memoir, beginning from birth when her mother left her to die from exposure. The first half focuses on Koofi’s struggles with her limited access to education. She explains that she was the only girl from her family who was allowed to attend school, and only because her father was no longer present. Once the Taliban took control, she was immediately forced to quit medical school.

 In a later section of her book, Koofi describes a trip she took to northern Afghanistan with a team of foreign surveyors. There she realized that one of the biggest difficulties faced by women was access to health care services -a problem that did not exist before the war. Once the civil war began many facilities were destroyed, and most physicians were forced to migrate to neighboring regions. 

The situation was further exacerbated when the Taliban took over. Women were no longer allowed to work in health care facilities, except in a select few hospitals (functioning under deplorable conditions) designated for women only. Male doctors were prohibited from seeing female patients and female doctors were seldom allowed to work, leaving female patients without treatment.

Many women living in smaller cities and villages still do not have access to health care services, leaving them to die from illnesses as common and easily treatable as diarrhea.

Throughout the book, Koofi describes how she consistently experienced inhumane treatment by Afghan men. Systematic gender discrimination was made worse with the arrival of the Taliban and, although they have been removed from power, the prejudice still continues in most regions to this day. 

Women are still harassed if they leave the house without their shroud-like burqas and a male chaperone. Many women around the world face domestic violence. As is often the case, the abuse occurring in Afghanistan is considered a family matter, without much hope of intervention or help from authorities.

 Koofi emphasizes that the arrival of the American forces resulted in liberation of Afghan women. Critics accuse her of being a “traitor” for siding with the Americans, and some consider Koofi to have obtained personal gain by writing a book that humiliates the Taliban and elevates the status of the U.S. 

Although Letters to my Daughters describes Koofi’s personal experiences, the memoir sheds light on the troubling hardships many Afghan women face. Although change seems more likely with a new democratic government in place, it will still take years before the women of Afghanistan are able to enjoy the opportunities that Koofi and other women are fighting for.

The book provides a fascinating insight into her personal struggle, and the struggle of so many like her. Koofi’s book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding Afghan women’s traumatic experiences.

– Contributing Writer: Fareena Shabbir, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today