The rationale seems to be that we keep people as victims by validating them, empathizing with them, and fighting alongside them for equality and the dignity they deserve. I don’t think people are kept down by that. I believe what keeps people down is the constant dismissal of their pain, the degradation, the humiliation, the fear of injustice, and the continuous crushing of their will, their faith, and their hope. This type of oppression kills the self-esteem people need to empower themselves, and it’s flat-out terrorism.

It was early in my career, and I had been seeing Mary, a shy, lonely, and physically collapsed young woman, for about three months in weekly psychotherapy, dealing with the ravages of her terrible history of early abuse. One day I opened the door to my waiting room and saw her standing there provocatively, dressed in a miniskirt, her hair dyed flaming red, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a snarl on her face. “You must be Dr. van der Kolk,

A refusal on the part of psychiatrists and therapists to validate the horrors of their patients’ tortured past implies a refusal to take seriously the unconscious psychological mechanisms that individuals need to use to protect themselves from the unspeakable. Such a denial is, however, no longer ethical, for it is in the human capacity to dissociate that lies part of the secret of both childhood abuse and the horrors of the Nazi genocide, both forms of human violence so often carried out by ‘respectable’ men and women.

Oddly then, in our search for meaning, we often assign victims too much blame for their assaults, and offenders too little. Our inconsistencies do not seem to trouble us, but they are truly puzzling. After all, if the offender is not to blame for his behavior, why would the victim be, no matter what she did our didn’t do? Our views make sense, however, if you think that we are trying to reassure ourselves that we are not helpless and, that, in any case, no one is out to get us.

The themes that exercised the minds of survivor movements and their allies within the health and welfare professions generated a political project: how to revolutionise medical and judicial approaches to injured adults and children, how to raise awareness so that other people didn’t have to suffer the same, and how to understand, and then challenge, offenders who so love what they do to children that they can and must shut their minds to the feelings of children who have put their trust in them. P4

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