Category: Ethics and Morality

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Virginity Tests Place Physicians in Quandary

00Embarrassment, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Marriage, Parenting, Religion, Trauma January, 15

In October of 2013, the College of Physicians in Quebec, Canada, ordered doctors to stop performing virginity tests on women.

Remarkably, it took a formal directive from a governing agency to stop the degrading practice. Over the 18 months preceding the announcement, there were five reports in Quebec alone of requests for virginity tests. But physicians note that the tests are actually a hidden taboo practice occurring at a very high frequency.

Requests are often made by a woman’s family, seeking to fulfil traditional requirements of providing proof of ‘innocence’ for marriage. Physicians are actively pressured by families to conduct these tests and sign certificates for review by both families, putting doctors in a moral quandary: refusing to perform the test or giving a negative result can dishonour a woman in the eyes of her family, but going along with the procedure represents collusion.

Practiced all over the world, virginity tests are a longstanding tradition. Many African nations uphold the custom, purportedly as a means of controlling AIDS by checking which women are ‘safe’ to marry. But tests do not definitively determine the presence of HIV or AIDS as it is possible for people to become infected through other means—sharing needles or from parents.

And the test is highly subjective. In addition to many women being born with negligible hymens, stressful activities and even tampons can lead to ‘loss of virginity’. Other versions of the test, such as checking for overall laxity of the vagina, are painful and embarrassing.

In 2011, women attending protests in Egypt were rounded up and subjected to virginity tests and other forms of sexual assault and humiliation by police and armed forces. In Indonesia, high-school officials are considering implementing virginity tests as a way of controlling student behaviour and encouraging chastity. In Iraq, virginity tests are regularly ordered by the courts, whereupon husbands can sue their wives and their families for damages and dissolution of marriage. And in India, not only is it common practice to put brides-to-be through the procedure, but even rape victims are subjected, which, if they fail, may mean shunning by families and others.

In Canada, requests for virginity tests have come from parents concerned about daughters’ choices, as well as from educated professionals afraid of disappointing husbands-to-be. While it may seem a relief that the procedure now has been deemed outside the scope of physician practice, pressure remains in some communities, leading many physicians to give out fake ‘virginity certificates,’ to placate families and protect the privacy and dignity of the women in question.

As witnessed by Canadians just over two years ago, traditions like these can escalate with tragic consequences. In June of 2009, Mohammad Shafia, reportedly incensed at his ex-wife’s and daughters’ behaviours, engaged the help of his new wife and son in brutally murdering the four women. Known as honour killing, this practice views women as male property. Similar beliefs hold female chastity and obedience in high regard, with violations of cultural norms being equated with treason, to be cleansed only through death.

In Montreal, Quebec, it was recently discovered that hymenoplasties—surgeries which artificially recreate the hymen so as to cause bleeding during intercourse—have become the second-most popular plastic surgery. Alarmingly, private medical organizations have stepped up and begun offering secret, cash-paid procedures for several thousand dollars to interested parties.

It is hard for physicians to agree on the moral dilemma of virginity testing. One televised discussion shows some doctors stressing the inaccuracy of virginity tests, and how the inherent pain and humiliation associated with them is enough to justify abolishing them entirely. In contrast, Rachel Ross, physician and sexologist, points out that virginity tests can be useful in criminal cases involving children to determine whether sexual abuse took place.

The biggest quandary facing physicians is whether to let virginity tests and hymenoplasties be available to the public. The reasoning behind both has been examined extensively by medical ethicist Marie-Eve Bouthillier, who explains that banning these procedures may seem like the best step to end these women’s pain and humiliation, but it may also subject them to violent retribution or even more demeaning tests conducted by family members or religious leaders.

Conversely, Bouthillier states that “sometimes the virginity certificate will be the ticket for a forced marriage,” meaning that physicians who perform the tests or even give false results may still be condemning these women to a life of suffering.

A difficult choice indeed. Right where the paths of medicine, ethics, and culture collide.

Contributing Writer: Nick Zabara, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit:<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/6869336880/“>Alex E. Proimos</a>

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Rape Chants Prevalent on University Campuses

00Education, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Law and Crime, Social Life, Stress, Trauma January, 15

“Y-O-U-N-G, we like ‘em young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.”

Frosh week: When nerves and expectations are high, and when first-year students are eager to meet new friends.

In September of 2013, university officials were outraged that some University of British Columbia (UBC) and St. Mary’s University (SMU) students glorified sexual assault by chanting a rape song during frosh week.

Chanting at frosh events is supposed to facilitate school-pride and community. Returning students organize frosh events to represent their schools with dignity. But like every year at UBC and SMU, frosh leaders continue to endorse sexist chants. The president of student council at St. Mary’s, who since resigned, said, “I never thought anything about it” since he heard the chant four years earlier. 

So do students who voluntarily take part in a rape chant actually endorse it? 

The desire to be part of a group can mean surrendering individuality. Social psychologists call this phenomenon deindividuation and it explains why rational individuals can become unruly in crowds. While group chanting is used as a social bonding technique during frosh –where fitting in and making friends is a priority– chanters may not realize they are legitimizing rape.

Historically, rape chanting has been associated with acceptance of violence against women says Otutubikey Izugbara, professor of medical anthropology at the University of Oyo, Nigeria. What’s concerning is that university campuses are unknowingly endorsing this mentality when young women ages 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be assaulted sexually than any other age group.

Political science professor Janni Aragon of The University of Victoria was not surprised by the frosh chants. “We live in a hyper-sexualized world where social justice activists, rape crisis workers, and academics working in women’s studies or other fields continually explain that rape culture thrives.” She explains that an atmosphere of rape culture can turn a rape chant into a “light-hearted moment,” one that underplays the severity of the ritual.

Both UBC and SMU administrators promised sensitivity training, counseling, and anti-rape education for students. Among them, Robert Helsley, dean of the UBC business school voiced concern for student safety and communicated his assurance that such inappropriate events would no longer occur. St. Mary’s appointed a panel to recommend sexual violence prevention on campus, including former politician Laurel Broten, who drafted Ontario’s sexual violence plan.

Education is part of the solution. Jessica Carlson, a psychology professor at Western New England College and Danielle Currier, a sociology and women’s studies professor at the College of William and Mary reported that students who participated in a rape education course were found to have changed attitudes about rape. Students were more likely to see rape as a negative event rather than a neutral or positive one.

But when Helen Lenskyj, professor of social justice at The University of Toronto showed that 60% of Canadian college-aged males would commit sexual assault if they knew they would not get caught, are preventive programs being introduced too late? 

In 2004, the Rand Corporation and Break the Cycle non-profit think tanks, questioned whether violence education programs are appropriately timed for university students. Their research shows that first sexual experiences often occur at a younger age, many of which are forced. High-school students are considered a high-risk group for unwanted sexual encounters.

Since then, rape education grants have increased for middle schools and high schools. Poco Smith, a professor of social work at Wayne State University and Sarah Welchans, a statistician from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics studied rape education in high-school students. They found that using an education peer group to explain male responsibility in sexual assault (as opposed to victim blaming) led high-school students to perceive rape as an objectively harmful event.

Still, it is challenging to reach younger students because parental consent is often a requirement, and there are few knowledgeable counselors to teach abuse prevention. Sexual education in general also tends to focus on heterosexual abuse, labeling the male as the abuser and the female as the victim. There is considerably less research that focuses on abuse in sexually diverse groups.

For victims of sexual assault, there is a social and psychological cost. Male-privileging rape songs can isolate victims, and encourages a celebration of trauma.

When two different universities bordering Canada are singing the same song at frosh week, you might wonder if other universities across Canada are doing it too.

Universities worldwide ought to pay close attention. When I was in high school, I didn’t wonder whether the chant I participated in was wrong. My guess is there are a whole lot of unaware students out there. 

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

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller 

Photo Credit: Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Myth Busting the Not Criminally Responsible Defense

00Altruism, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Guilt, Health, Law and Crime, Psychiatry, Psychopathy, Psychopharmacology, Therapy, Trauma December, 14

“I thought he must die. He had no future, nothing good. I thought I was saving the child.”

Nerlin Sarmiento had expressed disturbing thoughts about her children long before tragedy struck her small family of four. On many occasions the 32-year-old Edmonton mother had confessed to doctors and family members that she had thoughts of harming herself and her children.

Precautions were taken: Sarmiento was admitted to hospital several times, prescribed psychiatric medication, discharged, and had her mother move in to help care for the children. 

On the morning of February 12th 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Sarmiento sent her ten-year-old daughter to school, then forced her seven-year-old son into the bathroom where she held him under water until he stopped breathing.

Sarmiento did not deny murdering her son. She called the police herself to report the crime. Her lawyers, however, argued that she should not be held responsible on account of her mental illness that prevented her from appreciating the moral wrongfulness of her actions.

Two psychiatrists testified at Sarmiento’s trial. They explained that she was experiencing a severe depressive episode as part of her previously diagnosed bipolar disorder. She felt despair so extreme she became convinced she was committing an altruistic act, saving her son from a life of predestined poverty and hardship. 

On September 12th, 2013, Justice Sterling Sanderman agreed. Nerlin Sarmiento was found not criminally responsible (NCR) on a charge of first-degree murder. 

The public outcry against the ruling was reminiscent of the aftermath of the Vincent Li and Guy Turcotte trials; they were found NCR on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree murder respectively.

NCR has been a hot topic featured prominently in the press following several high profile cases, but is often misunderstood.

In Canada, if the court decides that an individual has committed a criminal act (i.e., they are guilty), but lacked the capacity to know that their actions were not only criminally wrong, but also morally wrong at the time, a verdict of not criminally responsible may be given.

Psychiatrist Robert Dickey with Correctional Service Canada and the University of Toronto helped the Trauma & Mental Health Report gain a better understanding of NCR and bust some of the myths surrounding the defense. 

Myth 1: Almost anyone can claim they have a mental disorder and use the NCR defense.

Technically, this is true. But whether or not they would be successful is another story, says Dickey, explaining that if you don’t have a severe mental illness, it is very hard to malinger your way through an NCR assessment and defense.

He further explains that the finding of NCR is based on the exact mental state of the accused at the time of the crime. By the time someone is referred for assessment by the courts, their state of mind may be quite different than it was when the offense was committed. 

A good clinician will seek clear corroborating information that the individual was suffering from a psychotic illness at the time they were arrested. The police, jail and institutional records should give information as to the individual’s mental state at the time.

This is not a matter of being a little depressed, states Dickey. The individual must be so ill that they would not have been able to tell right from wrong, appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or engage in rational choice when the crime occurred.

Myth 2: The NCR defense is a tactic for offenders to skirt the justice system.

Mostly false, says Dickey. If an individual does not suffer from a psychotic illness, pure psychopathy or criminality alone is not considered – by the law – to be a disease of the mind severe enough to qualify for a finding of NCR.

If the NCR defense is successful, the individual is remanded to the custody of the Provincial Review Board, where the offender is encouraged to receive treatment. Interestingly, the board itself has no power to order the accused to engage in treatment. 

But if an accused does refuse, they are often detained in a secure facility. Dickey explains that with cases of major mental illness and the refusal of treatment, the physician can refer the offender to the Consent and Capacity Review Board. And the individual may be declared incapable to refuse psychiatric treatment and treated against their will.

Myth 3: When a person is found NCR for a crime, they essentially walk free. 

False. The vast majority of offenders found NCR spend a lot more time detained in a secure facility than if they had been found guilty and served a regular prison sentence, Dickey explains. Because the consequences of NCR are more restrictive and more ensuring of treatment, the issue is now more readily raised by the crown (prosecution) than the defense.

After the individual has been remanded to the Provincial Review Board, the forensic psychiatrist will testify as to the necessary level of security needed to manage the offender and their psychiatric care, while still ensuring the safety of the community.

So what’s in store for Nerlin Sarmiento?

When her trial concluded, she was remanded to the custody of the Alberta Review Board (ARB). At a hearing within 45 days from the end of her trial, the ARB determined whether she would receive an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge or be detained in custody. The results of Sarmiento’s hearing have yet to be made public.

 – Contributing Writer: Jennifer Parlee, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

 Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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U.S. Government Fails to Support Families of Hostage Victims

00Anger, Anxiety, Appetite, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Parenting, Politics, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Resilience, Sleep, Stress, Teamwork, Trauma November, 14

On August 19, 2014, a YouTube video of American journalist James Foley’s beheading was released by the terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Weeks later, two more videos were released, showing the execution of American journalist Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines. Each victim was taken hostage years ago and ransom demands for their release were directed at their families in the months prior to their deaths.

But their families faced more than the pain of watching their loved ones die. The US government pressured relatives of hostages to do nothing to help.

According to Sotloff’s parents, a member of President Obama’s National Security Council threatened the family with criminal prosecution if they attempted to pay a ransom to ISIS for Sotloff’s release. A similar conversation was held with Foley’s family.

The US government emphasizes that they do not negotiate with terrorist organizations. But is threatening the families of hostages justifiable?

Families in hostage situations feel powerless, especially when information about their loved one is scarce. Government officials exacerbate this sense of powerlessness. Along with initial anxiety, feelings of isolation, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping, families of hostage victims who are denied the ability to intervene are more likely to develop long-term conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Furthermore, the US government may actually be stepping outside of its own legislation by forcing victims’ families into inaction.

According to an FBI report from April 2014 that discusses the protocol for helping families in overseas hostage situations, the ideal scenario is very different from what took place. The report states that a highly experienced operational psychologist should be put on the case to help the victim’s families by providing them with a sense of hope. 

“We [should] let them know there are people actively working to recover their family member and that we aren’t giving up”, says Carl Dickens, an operational psychologist with the FBI. In addition to emotional support, families should also be provided with temporary living accommodations and emergency expenses. 

When asked if they felt the US government gave them adequate support, the Sotloffs responded, “Not at all. We never really believed that the administration was doing anything to help us.”

The British government has also stood strong on their position to not pay ransom money to terrorist organizations. But the Haines family was never threatened. Despite their anger toward the law, friends and family of Haines did not experience the same pressure their American counterparts faced. “The government and foreign office did their best,” said Mike Haines, brother of the fallen aid worker, “we have complete satisfaction with what they did. We felt very much part of the team.”

The White House has denied all accounts of threatening the Sotloff and Foley families. Yet the Obama administration has become more attentive to families of the latest overseas hostages and the latest victim, Peter Kassig. The famiy of an unidentified female aid worker who is presently being held hostage by ISIS recently had personal meetings with Obama to discuss the situation.

This is an important step towards finding a balance between respecting victims of terrorists and protecting the public good. But in the meantime, where the government has failed, the families of victims are trying to help others like them. Foley’s parents are establishing an organization to aid families of overseas hostage victims through counselling and support. The James W. Foley Legacy Fund will help build a resource center for families of American hostages and foster a global dialogue on government policies in hostage crises.

– Contributing Writer: Alessandro Perri, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/babasteve/4705515039/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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One Woman’s Suicide Ignites the Right to Die Debate

00Aging, Dementia, Depression, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Health, Memory, Politics, Suicide November, 14

“I will take my life today around noon. It is time. Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself.”

Gillian Bennett chose the right to die in the backyard of her home on Bowen Island. On August 18th, 2014, wrapped in the arms of her husband of 60 years, she said goodbye with a tumbler of whiskey and a lethal dose of barbiturates. 

At age 85, Bennett had been living with dementia for over three years. During her lucid moments, she would ruminate on the impact of her suffering on family, and the burden she would become on the healthcare system at large.

Bennett wanted to live and die with dignity; she viewed spending her remaining days in a nursing home as anything but.

The retired psychotherapist voiced her wish to end her life on her own terms before losing “an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who [she is].” Her family and friends supported her decision.

“In our family it is recognized that any adult has the right to make her own decision.” 

Bennett’s conversations became the inspiration for deadatnoon.com, a website that hosts her goodbye letter. In it, Bennett explains her reasoning for wanting to die on her own terms and makes a plea to re-open the debate on assisted suicide for the elderly and terminally ill 

Every day Bennett felt she was losing another part of herself. Small lapses in memory were followed by an inability to keep the days straight and a decline in physical capacity. Soon, she would not have been competent enough to make decisions about her life. She wanted out before that happened.

She considered three options. The first was to “have a minder care for [her] mindless body” despite financial hardship on her family. The second, to settle into a federally funded facility at a cost to the country of $50,000 to $75,000 per year. The third, to end her life “before her mind [was] gone.”

She felt compelled to choose the third, dismissing the other options as “ludicrous, wasteful, and unfair.” At the end of her four-page letter, she encouraged readers to consider the ethics of assisted suicide.

Canadians are not unfamiliar with the debate on euthanasia. Beginning with the landmark Rodriguez v. British Columbia decision, euthanasia has been revisited by the courts many times.

In 1991, Sue Rodriguez, who was suffering from ALS, attempted to petition the Supreme Court of Canada to allow assistance in ending her life. The court refused her request.

Despite the decision, she passed away with the aid of an unknown doctor in 1994.

A similar ruling was made in the Robert Latimer case. Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in 1997 after killing his severely mentally disabled daughter, Tracy, whose condition left her in constant, unmanageable pain. 

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the ban on assisted suicide was unconstitutional following a challenge from another ALS sufferer, Gloria Taylor. The federal government appealed the ruling and, in 2013, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the ban.

Bennett’s decision to end her life revived the debate. Following the publication of Bennett’s letter, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher went on record saying that assisted suicide in Canada has never been properly debated in Parliament. 

Fletcher has recently introduced two private member’s bills on assisted suicide. One will allow physicians to help patients end their lives under certain circumstances. The other will introduce a commission to systematically monitor the practice. 

How these bills will fare in Parliament remains to be seen, but Fletcher claims they have a strong chance of passing a second reading and moving to the justice committee. Additionally, the Supreme Court of Canada began hearing arguments on October 15th, 2014 on whether to uphold or strike down the current ban on assisted suicide. 

Bennett, a woman who saw life as “a party she was dropped into”, made it clear she felt she was losing nothing by committing suicide. Described as smart, funny, and irreverent, she faced death the way she lived life. 

“Each of us is born uniquely and dies uniquely. I think of dying as a final adventure with a predictably abrupt end. I know when it’s time to leave and I do not find it scary.” 

– Contributing Writer: Magdelena Belanger, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

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

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo by #300091984/Flickr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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I Do but I Don’t Have To: Marital Rape

00Divorce, Environment, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Punishment, Religion, Stress, Trauma October, 14

Rape is often thought of as forced sexual intercourse by a stranger. So as a crime within marriage, rape is often overlooked.

Worse, many consider it a husband’s right to have intercourse at will.

Rape scenes on television and film are commonplace. Even AMC ‘s award-winning show, Mad Men, known for its poignant showcase of gender issues in the 1950’s tackles the topic of marital rape in graphic difficult-to-watch dramatic scenes.

There’s a Difference

Marital rape is often regarded as less traumatic than stranger rape but studies show this to be false; survivors experience long lasting effects.

Unlike stranger rape, marital rape is often a reoccurring event. Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Professor and Chair of Sociology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, notes that marital rape victims are “more likely to experience multiple assaults and often suffer severe long-term physical and emotional consequences.”

There is also a difference in the type of abuse suffered. Married perpetrators may use verbal and psychological means of control, for example, anal or oral rape to humiliate the spouse.

The psychological trauma can also spread through the family when children become witnesses to sexual abuse. In a study by researchers Jacquelyn Campbell and Peggy Alford, the authors found that five percent of the women indicated that their children had been forced by their partners to participate in sexual violence and 18% of the women indicated that their children had witnessed an incident of marital rape at least once.

Now considered a global problem, findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, University of Minnesota, indicate that an astounding 20 percent of rape survivors were victimized by a spouse or ex-spouse, and four percent were raped by a current or previous cohabitating partner.

Why Don’t They Just Leave? 

Believing that the perpetrator might change results in general underreporting of sexual abuse by family members. 

Women under misconceptions -rape myths- believe the crime is only committed by strangers. So help-seeking is hindered by their failure to recognize being crime victims at all.

Even if they recognize the husband as abusive, there are barriers to escape. Social and religious shaming can represent obstacles to separation or divorce.

The nature of the spousal relationship can serve to imprison many women. Financial dependence and in some cases photographs and film taken of the sexual abuse are used as blackmail, also limiting options. 

Punishment

Criminalization of marital rape didn’t take place in many countries for decades after the feminist movement brought it to the forefront in the 1960s with countries such as Canada, Israel, and Australia waiting until the early 1980s to create laws against it. In the United States, it wasn’t until 1993 that rape laws in all 50 states had removed a marital rape exemption, which allowed a husband to legally rape his wife. 

Even with the removal of the exemption, marital rape is still often dealt with differently in the legal system from other rape crimes. An Illinois Victim’s Services Newsletter describes a case from 2005 in which a wife reported being raped by her husband. Although the average conviction for rape in Illinois is five years, he only served 19 months.

You Don’t Own Me 

Misogynistic beliefs, the view that women’s bodies are owned by their husbands, and victim blaming attitudes (“she was asking for it”), serve to slow progress.

Certain religions may encourage the dominance and status of males over females, especially in the context of marriage. This cultivates a sense of ownership and religious right to do with wives as some husbands see fit. 

Outrage over a proposal of a marital rape law in the Bahamas had many Bahamian men confused with one stating, “It is ridiculous for them to try to make that a law, because I don’t think a man can rape his own wife. After two people get married, the Bible says that they become one –one flesh. How is it possible to rape what is yours?” 

It is just this culture of justified rape that perpetuates silence.

At its core, marital rape needs to be recognized for what it is -a violation of human rights, rooted in misconceptions that must be amended for the sake of our mothers, sisters, and daughters.

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, 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

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Acid Attacks: The New Gender Terrorism

00Dreaming, Ethics and Morality, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Parenting, Punishment, Resilience, Trauma September, 14

With her head bent down staring at the floor, saliva running down her chin, a woman is unable to lift her head or close her mouth. Acid has melted her skin.

An estimated 1500 people per year are victims of acid attacks; 80 percent of whom are female and 40 percent are under the age of 18. Although acid attacks are becoming increasingly common in countries such as India, Cambodia and Afghanistan, they occur more in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world.

 About 60 cents a bottle, acid (hydrochloric, nitric or sulfuric) has become the weapon of choice against women in countries where their rights are still limited.

 In November 2012, the BBC reported a story about a 15-year old girl, attacked by her own parents because she turned her head to look at a boy passing on a motorcycle. Claiming that she “dishonoured her family,” the parents together beat her and then poured acid over her. After two days without being taken to a hospital, the young girl died of her injuries.

 Rarely resulting in death, the horror of the attacks is nevertheless striking. Within seconds, the acid melts skin, fat, muscle and sometimes bone. Women may be left blind, some with sealed nostrils, shriveled ears and damage to their airway from inhaling the fumes. In time, formed scar tissue tightens and pulls what is left on the face and neck, causing intense physical pain and discomfort.

 Why do the attacks occur? Most show a common theme: a woman stepping out of her subordinate gender role thereby causing dishonour to her husband or family. Choices many of us make without thinking, such as rejecting a marriage proposal or a sexual advance, are enough to instigate an attack.

The violent act is a threatening message not only to the victim, but to women in general, leaving many in a permanent state of fear.

 Victims are left permanently disfigured, socially isolated, and emotionally scarred. With the end results so extreme, some have called for punishment of death for those who inflict this on others. Yet in most cases, the perpetrator is left to carry on as if nothing happened. Laws have been passed with jail sentences as high as 14-years. But inefficiencies and corruption within the legal systems where these attacks occur mean that fewer than 10 percent of cases make it to court.

Many human rights agencies have advocated banning the sale of acid to decrease its availability. But for those who are motivated, acid can be found; many attackers are now using the inside contents of car batteries.

Sital Kalantry, the Cornell international human rights clinical director has called the phenomenon a form of “gender terrorism.” Unless women are able to step into a role of equality of rights and freedoms, the problem will persist.

Worldwide, many are taking action to raise awareness, provide treatment and ease pain. The 2012 Oscar award winning documentary Saving Face, tells the stories of Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks, and follows them through their fight for justice, through their battle to get their lives back.

Featured in the film is British plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad who has devoted countless hours to reconstructing the faces and bodies of women damaged by acid. He is one of many who have donated their time to try and heal these women.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, established in 1999, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women find a place again by connecting them with treatment and rehabilitation services offered by people such as Jawad.

Still, surgeons cannot repair everyone. For some already suffering from malnutrition, an acid attack can leave their skin almost fossilized, with scar tissue left to take over. For those who are able to undergo surgery, it can take over 20 procedures to restore basic functioning, a process unaffordable to many already living in poverty.

In addition to the physical damage, acid attacks inflict emotional damage and can destroy hopes and dreams. Uli Schmetzer, a Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, told a story in 1999 of a 20-year old girl, Sufia, who became the victim of an acid attack meant for her sister who had turned down a marriage proposal. Having been accepted into university, Sufia had plans to become an agronomist; following the attack, she was likely to end up a beggar.

Often living as social pariahs following mutilation, these women are left with little hope. Seeing perpetrators get off without consequence, others are left to live in a state of fear that they will be next.

 – Contributing Writer: Crystal Slanzi, 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

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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

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Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality

00Caregiving, Consumer Behavior, Ethics and Morality, Fantasies, Featured news, Gender, Pornography, Sex, Sport and Competition, Trauma August, 14

Claiming that mainstream porn is in the business of “making hate,” sociology and women’s studies professor Gail Dines at Wheelock College, Boston, has been a voice in the anti-pornography movement for two decades. In her latest book, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality, Dines challenges the idea that the porn industry is in the business of “making love.”

She opens the subject with this line: “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8 to 16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. That means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.” She points to the violence, rape and trauma embedded in mainstream pornography as cleverly wrapped in a sexual cloak, rendering it invisible. Those who protest are deemed anti-sex instead of anti-violence.

Dines has been portrayed as an uptight, anti-sex, victim feminist. But before judging, we should understand her arguments.

Argument 1: Pornography is first and foremost a business

Informative and well researched, the first three chapters describe the emergence of the porn industry. Dines walks readers from post World War II America to the present, describing the evolution of mass porn distribution as a key driver of new technological innovations. The most recent of these innovations being streaming video on computers and cell phones, allowing users to buy porn in private without embarrassing trips to seedy shops.

A multi-billion dollar business, content has been shaped by the contours of sophisticated marketing, state of the art technology, and competition within the industry. Dines says that underestimating the power of this well-oiled machine is the biggest mistake consumers of porn often make.

Argument 2: Porn is more than just fantasy

The next few chapters are devoted to myth busting. Dines considers porn to take place in “a parallel universe where love and intimacy are replaced by violence and the incessant abuse of women.” The majority of scenes from 50 top rented pornographic movies contained physical and verbal abuse; in fact, 90 percent of scenes contained at least one aggressive act.

In her chapter “Leaky Images: How Porn Seeps into Men’s Lives,” Dines examines the argument that porn is just entertainment citing that it is naive to think that fantasy can somehow remain separate from consumers’ actual sex lives. She looks at issues like the real-world effects of porn by drawing comparisons to the plastic surgery industry. “Many women know that the image of the model in the ads is an airbrushed, technologically enhanced version of the real thing, but that doesn’t stop us from buying products in the hope that we can imitate an image of an unreal woman.”

When the content source–big business–is considered, it becomes clearer how porn is not fantasy in the traditional sense of the word. Rather than coming from imagination, longings and experiences, these “fantasies” are highly formulaic factory-line images.

Argument 3: Pornography breeds violence

In 2002, the case of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition deemed the 1996 Child Porn Prevention Act unconstitutional because its definition of child pornography (any visual depiction that appears to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct) was too broad. Dines explains that the law was narrowed to cover only those images of an actual person under the age of 18 (rather than one that simply appears to be). Since then, Pseudo Child Pornography or PCP has exploded all over the internet.

In PCP, “childified” women are adorned with pigtails and shown playing with toys. They are penetrated by any number of men masquerading as fathers, teachers, employers, coaches, and just plain old anonymous child molesters. Dines gives examples of defloration sites and websites specializing in virginity-taking, where an intact hymen is displayed before penetration. This disturbing issue serves as the climax of Dines’ book.

Unfortunately, Dines may lose a number of readers by drawing a link between viewing PCP and pedophilia. Dines interviews sexual offenders in prison, questioning them about their child porn consumption prior to engaging in child abuse. Almost without fail, offenders admitted to the use of porn before committing their crimes. This kind of retrospective research cannot accurately show cause-effect and fails to consider a host of other potential factors influencing child abuse (e.g., prior history of sexual abuse from a caregiver). In this way, she overstates her case.

Still, Pornland provides a rich examination of the porn industry and what it means to grow up in a porn-saturated culture. Despite a bent toward sensationalism, the book will help female and male readers question their beliefs about sex and also question where those beliefs come from.

– Contributing Writer: Anjani Kapoor, 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