A First Look at Mental Health Professions (Or: Unfit to Testify?)

Mental health issues are common with people who have been sexually abused as children. It becomes extraordinarily difficult when the abuse was related to the mental health system itself. While much attention has been placed on religious organisations, children’s homes, and sporting organisations, the mental health area has not received anywhere near as much attention.

Broken Rites co-founder, Chris Wilding, has just alerted many people to an article quoting someone who has spoken to the Royal Commissioners about this very thing (see below). The case in question is unlikely to be an isolated one.

The average mental health professional will readily admit that things were not so good in the profession before the 1970s, particularly in psychiatric institutions. Both children’s homes and the formal psychiatric institutions were abandoned as models by the end of the 1970s. Some of the victims of those former institutions still exist, and need to be heard. There are also incidents, however, after the 1970s as well.

It is a sad fact that, for many former residents of children’s homes, being sent to a psychiatric facility served as a form of punishment rather than of therapy. Abuses undoubtedly occurred.

One can say this with confidence because of one simple fact.

If you want to find a fish, look in water. There is one common feature of child sexual abuse cases, and that is there is a very large power distance between abuser and victim, and little outside scrutiny. As has been covered in previous postings, the power distance may be symbolic, as with a priest and a deeply religious family. It may be the distance between a Salvation Army officer and an impoverished person. It may be the distance between an official of a children’s home and the child in care. It may be a teacher and student, and so on.

In the case of mental health, the power distance is very insidious, because it is often the case that the abuser can hide behind the claim that the victim cannot be believed because he or she is of unsound mind. Also, often the victims are in the facility against their will.

The legal system has been to blame for much of the difficulty in gaining redress for victims in the past. The judiciary for a long time tended to side with the abuser because of the abuser’s higher status and consequently (erroneously) accorded the abuser higher credibility than was attributed to the victim. This was devastating to victims where it was a case of their word against that of the abusers.

In most of the abuse situations, the courts have seen so many cases that the power distance factor has become less important in deciding who is to be believed. In the matter of mental health cases, the judiciary has yet to fully catch up with reality. The more cases which are raised in the Royal Commission environment, rather than in the courts, the more this prevailing attitude will change.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Postcards from Rome

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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