The trauma of domestic violence: reality v. the classroom

dv1“I need to use a phone.”

I had just arrived home yesterday and was surprised to find my neighbor — I’ll call her Sarah (not her real name) — standing in my drive. Then I realized it was her car that was parked on the other side of the street. She must have been waiting for me.

“Has something happened?” I asked, but not really needing to, given the pallor of her face and the way she staggered as we walked towards my house.

“I’ve been beaten up and I just need to call the police.” That’s when I noticed the hand she held to her temple was hiding a very nasty lump. “I don’t want to stay,” she added quickly.

At work, I am known as the trauma geek – in fact, just yesterday afternoon I was teaching trauma-informed care to our current class of parent educators who are getting their certification in nonviolent parenting. One of the participants is a domestic violence survivor and gave a description of how trauma affected her ability to think and remember after escaping into a shelter.

“It was like there was rain in my ears for a week. You could speak to me and I would see your mouth moving, but I couldn’t understand what you were saying.” She was far more eloquent than my slides on the neurological effects of trauma. And now here was Sarah sitting on my sofa probably in the same state.

A glass of water! I remembered the grounding techniques to soothe the alarm center (amygdala) of the brain. I filled a glass and then sat down and stroked her hand.

“Would you be willing to tell me who has done this to you?”

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Many ways to leave the res; military spouses in dire straits; doing prisons differently

alexieIn the realm of thought-provoking writing about the short and long-term consequences of childhood adversity over the last month, these three articles stood out. Perhaps you might find them of interest, too.

When poet, writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie talked with’s Joe Fassler, he said that he almost didn’t become a writer (and the world would be without The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven). But when he read this line in “Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile”, a poem by Adrian C. Louis  — “Oh, uncle Adrian, I’m in the reservation of my mind” — he immediately decided to become a poet.

The interview explores what that line means now to Alexie, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He says it describes how people are stuck in their own mental prisons, including the prisons of the abusive families of their childhoods. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the interview, which is well worth a read:

Now I am actively and publicly advocating for Native kids to leave the reservation as soon as they can. The reservation system was created by the U.S. Military. It was an act of war. Why do we make them sacred now, even though most reservations are really third-world, horrible banana republics? I think “I’m in the reservation of my mind” has an incredibly destructive connotation for me now. It’s apocalyptic, when I think about it. The human journey has always been about movement. And a century ago, when we moved onto the reservation, my tribe stopped moving. All the innovation we’ve done since then has been just modeling after Europeans. I mean, our greatest successes are casinos! So, “I’m in the reservation of my mind”

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The shame of incarceration: new evidence on sexual victimization

The power of data to combat denial and distortion is dramatically illustrated in “The Shame of Our Prisons:  New Evidence,” a review of studies carried in the October 24 issue of the New York Review of Books by David Kaiser, chair of the board of Just Detention International (JDI) and Lovisa Stannow, JDI’s executive director. Kaiser and Stannow say that the uniform denial of the widespread problem of prison rape has changed now that good data is available. The carefully conducted surveys by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reviewed by Kaiser and Stannow have found consistent findings: “The same factors that put inmates at risk of sexual abuse show up again and again, as do the same patterns of abuse involving race and gender, inmates and guards.” The data discredits the assertion by prison officials in recent years that inmates fabricate claims of sexual victimization in order to cause trouble.

Kaiser and Stannow report that the studies [Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12: BJS National Inmate Survey (NIS) and Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012: BJS National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC)] confirm important findings from earlier surveys (e.g., extraordinary numbers of female inmates and guards commit sexual

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