The Silver Lining
By Lesli Musicar, Clinical Member, OSP
The article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of prOSPect
Thanks to former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, the issue of violence against women is once again in the public eye. If ever there was a silver lining to such a shameful scandal, this is surely it. I find it heartening that so many women of all ages are coming forward and disclosing their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Even Sheila Copps, that former feisty politician, once silenced by her abuse, is now speaking out.
This has once again shone a spotlight on the issue of violence against women as well as its public manifestation, harassment in the workplace. There have been numerous interviews on both CBC radio and television covering these topics since the Ghomeshi story broke. And the coincidental resurgence of accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby has kept the issue front and centre, not to mention the 25th anniversary of the massacre of 14 young women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. And, most recently, the gruesome murder of a mother and her two young children in Thorncliffe Park. And by the time you’re reading this, God knows what else!
But as we all know, violence against women is a daily occurrence, usually coming to light when it is already too late. Lives end prematurely or are stunted by injuries, primarily to the psyche. The result is either a narrow existence where women go through the motions of life without really living, or they live a life of inner torment where they can never feel safe. And aren’t these two of the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress?
So what does this mean for us therapists? In a former lifetime, I was in an abusive relationship myself. He convinced me it was my fault, so I sought help. But my therapist didn’t want to hear about the abuse. She became impatient with the details of incidents where I felt threatened or unsafe. I was desperate to have my reality validated. I needed her to tell me the controlling behaviour, the violence and the threats were abuse. But she didn’t.
I don’t care what your approach is, but when a woman is being abused, it needs to be named. Being in an abusive relationship or being sexually harassed at work can feel very crazy making. It is the power dynamic in both that make us question ourselves, doubt ourselves. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name. Perpetrators know how to target and play a woman’s vulnerabilities. By the time that woman has come to your office, she is already in crisis. She needs to know it’s not her fault. She needs some psychological education on the abuse of power. And she needs support to find her way to safety.
So I say, thank you Jian Ghomeshi for again raising our consciousness about violence against women. Somehow it feels different this time. Perhaps our society has matured since the 90s? Perhaps it is ready to see women as true equals and not just equal in name only? Then, perhaps we can begin to take some real action to empower women oppressed in other societies to achieve that same lofty pinnacle: the status of human being.
Lesli Musicar (www.counsellingatthecarrot.com) has been a Clinical member of OSP since 1994.