Sunday, October 18, 2009

pathologising the effects of rape and sexual abuse

There are some large problems with ACC requiring people who have been raped/sexually abused to declare and be diagnosed as mentally ill, to be able to access subsidies for counselling.

There are a whole raft of problems. but first we will combat a main argument (justification, thought or feeling) of "well if you're seeking counselling in the first place then you must not be okay, so why not just be diagnosed as mentally ill".

What the ACC proposal will do, is medicalise and pathologise the effects of rape and sexual abuse. The problem with this, is that things in our society that become medicalised and pathologised, become depoliticised and individualised.

Pathologise is a bit of a odd term, it makes me think of germs in little plastic platters. It means to "characterise as medically or physiologically abnormal, the process through which behaviours and/or conditions become defined and treated as medical issues".

This is a wider problem because things that are designated as a medical issue, become divorced from any social responsibility they might once have had. It means the "problem" becomes the individuals own responsibility (and fault) , and it was merely unfortunate that it happened, but its OK, it's a medical condition we can just fix. In our society, medical things, and the medical industry, sets itself up as nuetral and objective, but it's not and never has been.

The ACC proposals, mean that the burden or rape and sexual abuse will be (re) constructed as merely a mental health (personal) issue, rather than a systemic and structural problem relating to power, gender and colonisation (to name a few power dynamics).

What being pathologised, or mentally ill in our society means, is about the made up groups of "Normal" and "Abnormal". The person who has been raped or abused is "abnormal" for feeling hurt, angry, upset, violated, scared, sad etc. And the label available for the people who rape and abuse, and a society that allows this to occur, is "normal".

It would be a little bit like, if a Large Factory was pouring its waste into a river and polluting it, and the people who lived around it were getting very sick. And then instead of being able to go to the doctor and say, "I've been forced to drink and use the factory polluted water, and I feel ill", to get treated you had to say, "I'm an unhealthy person".

In the first instance where it's acknowledge and heard that you're feeling sicky is due to the polluted water from the factory which you have no choice but to drink, there is a tiny bit of room for people to say, "You stink yucky factory, stop your icky polluting and stop making us sick". Whereas in the second instance, people only have room to say, "Stink for me, I'm unhealthy, I should just exercise more and eat veges because I'm unhealthy, and that's why I get sick".

The reason the ACC proposal stinks, is because it invisibilises (even more than it already is) the reality that gender and sexual violence against women and children in particular. It pitches it that rape and sexual abuse is not really that bad, and not really anyone's problem, except for the individual, who is simply mentally ill.

It shifts the "blame" and responsibility (even more so than it already is) onto the people who have had violence and abuse done to them. It lets rapists, abusers, and a bureaucratic colonial, patriarchal, neo-liberal, violent state, off the hook.

It lets us continue to believe that rape and sexual abuse is just a little bit unfortunate and slighty an odd rare occurance, only commited by a Crazy Depraved Stranger in a Trench-coat Waiting in the Bushes in the Dark, rather than people known to us (which it is, most of the time) and therefore it is simply a case of treating a mentally ill person for something that might have gone wrong to them.

The problems are all of this, not to mention the current stigma around mental health in our society. It results in statistically being able to label a whole bunch of mainly women as "mentally ill". It's a sneaky underhanded move.

And then we have the added dig, that historically, the medical profession and the DSM has, is far from healing and "nuetral".

We need only look at Science's (White/Euro/Western) "proof" not so long ago, that coloured people were "scientifically" proven to be inferior to white people.

We need to remember that homosexual behaviours were first pathologised, and made illegal, and a homosexual medical condition was then able to be treated with lobotomies, electro shock treatment, and imprisonment.

We need to see that transgender peoples are still in the DSM as a mental condition.

We shouldn't forget that the "new" mental illnesses involving women (hysteria, nymphomania just to name a couple) were "discovered" and entered into the DSM, coincidentally at the same time as the suffragette movement in Europe.

At the end of the day, it's pretty blatant and offensive what is happening. That a large proportion, around 1 in 3, or 1 in 4 women, will experience rape or sexual abuse in their lifetimes, from predominantly men, can in effect be labelled mentally ill, in fact must be diagnosed as mentally ill, if they want to access support for healing. Ridiculous.

1 comment:

  1. burrrrrgh. it's as underhanded as the VSM bill taking away the political power of the student body as a whole.