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On sexual violence, gender oppression and mental health

in Letters by

Among the many reasons to support speaking out against sexual violence and gender oppression is one that isn’t talked about a lot directly.

In the years I’ve spent looking at mental trauma, one of the themes that repeats over and over again is that sexual trauma is regularly at the root of madness. People feel that they can’t safely disclose to anyone the violence that they have experienced and repress it, try to live with it, internalize it, blame themselves for it, and learn that it’s how the world is and it’s what they deserve, until that kind of internal toxicity becomes too much to bear.

It can express itself, among other things, as depression, schizophrenia, bipolarity, disassociation, and/or antisocial personality disorder, as the mind finds more and more complex ways to cope and find a solution to the problem.

If and when someone in that situation seeks help, the mainstream mental health system is likely going to be yet another place where they are blamed, as the cause of mental illness is considered by psychiatry to come from a “brain chemical imbalance” that essentially blames the victim for their own deficiency rather than blame the violent catalyst, and that it is pharmacology rather than social values where a solution is to be found.

Creating safe spaces where victims of sexual violence feel safe and are able to speak out against it—so they don’t have to feel alone—is critical for many dimensions of wellness, and as importantly, the more vocal and mainstream the conversation becomes, the more likely that we might as a society be able to reduce the incidents of sexual violence that occur, and that we might be able to increase the amount of acts of sexual violence that are reported to the police (it is currently believed that 10 per cent or so are reported, but I suspect that it is much less than that).

Iain McCurdy (St. John’s)

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