My encounter with Harvey Weinstein and what it tells us about trauma

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Harvey Weinstein, 2014/ Photo by Georges Biard

 

I have been watching the scandal about Harvey Weinstein emerge with great interest – in the early ‘90s, I too was one of the young women he preyed upon.

The details of what I have learned was not unique to me are out there now – the office tour that became an occasion to trap me in an empty meeting room, the begging for a massage, his hands on my shoulders as I attempted to beat a retreat… all while not wanting to alienate the most powerful man in Hollywood.

This morning I learned he was fired. His misdeeds are now common knowledge and I don’t see much mileage in adding my name to the list of women he abused, especially since those who were brave enough to come forward in the New York Times article are the ones who had to ride out the inevitable attempts to shame and discredit them in the face of Harvey’s denials, only to emerge vindicated. I salute these women. I would be a footnote to their courage. Thanks to them, this genie will not go back into the bottle.

What is more interesting to me are the issues this story raises. Reading the comments online, I see in black and white the reason I spent a whole weekend wondering if adding my voice would encourage other women to come forward or whether this would just bring a barrage of unwanted attention, forcing me into a defensive position and upsetting my family.

Why is it that women carry the shame of their abusers? We deplore the ‘honor killings’ and Old Testament thinking that blames a woman for getting into a situation where she becomes vulnerable, and yet that is exactly what is happening to the women who have spoken openly about Harvey’s abuse. Read the accounts: Each women is at pains to explain why she was in Harvey’s hotel room, alone in a restaurant corridor, sharing a Miramax rented house. Why? Because a voice in their head is saying, “Why did I let myself get into that situation?” Then there are the Internet trolls who chime in with, “What did you think was going to happen?” and accusing a predator’s victims of “wanting to sleep their way to the top.”

I know, because these are exactly the voices that have been occupying my head since the story broke on Thursday. But also there is the voice of the girlfriend who had introduced me to Harvey and was angry with me after he called her wanting to make sure I wasn’t going to make a complaint about his behavior. He was her ‘silver bullet’ and even though she had not warned me about him, it was somehow my fault I found myself alone with him and he tried to take advantage of me. The industry friend who drove me to meet Harvey has no recollection of the event, even though he took me home, shaken by my encounter. He asks me to keep his name out of it: “I don’t need that kind of publicity.”

No one needs ‘that kind of publicity’, least of all the hundreds of women Harvey must have propositioned over the decades. He will remain rich and powerful, the women will remain unknown, silent, hurting, because to speak up would be even more painful in this climate of victim-blaming.

And let us give a thought to the women who did not manage to escape gracefully from the hotel rooms, or even those who were so desperate for advancement that they paid the price of having sex with the person Meryl Streep calls ‘God’. You must feel sick to your stomach but can never reveal your secret because if this is the shame and blame we encounter for having fought off the predator, how much more would follow you for submitting to a powerful man because he made that your best or only option at the time. And so the predators continue, unaccountable, because society – the comments on the Internet, the friends and families who urge silence, the conditioning of women to be ‘nice’ and excuse men’s behavior or take the blame on themselves – allows the predators to transfer their shame onto their victims.

How is this happening when we know better? In fact, the science behind childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences – ACES) tells us exactly why many women will have frozen like I did when Harvey appeared naked or put his hands on their shoulders. It is one of the three possible conditioned responses – fight, flight, freeze – stemming from a time when you were powerless to protect yourself from an older, stronger person. As a child, you have very little ability to defend yourself from the abuser who is also your caregiver, or from a predator who assures you no one will believe your stories. And when that situation repeats itself as an adult, your survival brain protects you by dialing up the behavior that kept you alive in the past.

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Wisconsin aims to be first trauma-informed state; seven state agencies lead the way

Here in California, many people think that it’s only liberal Democrats who have a corner on championing the science of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and putting it into practice. That might be because people who use ACEs science don’t expel or suspend students, even if they’re throwing chairs and hurling expletives at the teacher. They ask “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” as a frame when they create juvenile detention centers where kids don’t fight, reduce visits to emergency departments and shrink teen pregnancy rates….among many other things.

Because they do all this and more by abandoning the notion of trying to change people’s behavior by punishing, blaming or shaming them, and instead using understanding, nurturing and healing, some people might think this approach belongs to the purview of one political party.

Mmmmmm….Not so fast.

To paraphrase Tonette Walker, the First Lady of Wisconsin, married to Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was a GOP presidential candidate in 2016:

That’s ridiculous.

Her exact words were: “It’s ridiculous that people say this is a Democratic or Republican issue. We all care about issues concerning families and children. We all care about the outcome of people’s lives, no matter who you are.”

Tonette Walker

In fact, many residents of Wisconsin might think that it’s only conservative Republicans who have a corner on championing ACEs science. That’s because the state — and Tonette Walker — have some serious bragging rights about how they’ve implemented trauma-informed practices based on ACEs science. Since 2012, 43 counties and three tribes have participated in the Wisconsin Trauma Project, as shown in this project maplist of project sites, and an interactive map. Here are some examples of the results:

  • The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin has become the “poster tribe,” according to U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), in educating and integrating practices based on ACEs science. Hundreds of tribal members have been educated about ACEs science, starting with historical trauma. The schools have integrated trauma-informed practices with the result that graduation rates soared from 60 to 99 percent.
  • After all staff members of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services learned about ACEs science and the Child Welfare department started becoming trauma-informed, workers’ burnout rates dropped 23 percent and secondary traumatic stress rates dropped 42 percent over three years. In addition, the number of children placed outside the home dropped 15%, and kinship placements increased.
  • In January 2014 the Wisconsin legislature was the first in the U.S. to pass a joint resolution addressing early adversity and noted the “role of early intervention and investment in early childhood years as important strategies to achieve a lasting foundation for a more prosperous and sustainable state through investing in human capital.”

There are other states where Republican governors are helping lead or are supporting ACEs initiatives —Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont come to mind. And there are states with Democratic governors that have robust ACEs initiatives in their cities, counties, regions and sectors such as education: California, Washington, Montana, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts.

But the focus of this article is on what no other state is doing: In 2016, Wisconsin Gov. Walker directed seven state agencies to learn about ACEs science and to implement practices based on that science for their own workforces. His and his wife’s goal: To make Wisconsin the first trauma-informed state in the U.S.

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The Hague Protocol: Identifying kids at risk by interviewing parents in the ER

In the summer of 2007, a woman was brought by ambulance to the emergency department of the Medical Center Haaglanden, a hospital that serves an inner city area of The Hague. The woman was drunk and had a severe head injury. Her 8-year-old son was with her.

Hester Diderich, an emergency nurse, and other hospital staff members looked after the boy while they attended to his mother. “We were very nice to him,” Diderich remembers.

After treating the woman’s injuries, they were ready to release her and her son. What happened next led Diderich and her colleagues to realize they needed a better way to protect children and evaluate the risks they face. They created a new process, known as The Hague Protocol, and started a study to evaluate it. The protocol is now in use throughout the Netherlands and is being adopted by other European countries as well.

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Curiosity and reciprocity: Engaging community in the ACE & resilience movement

In an all-day workshop that Laura Porter was leading with community organizers and parents, she told the story of a woman from the Congo who had to leave her homeland. Before the woman left, she had a dream about living in the United States.

The woman said she imagined opening her door, letting her children run free, hearing them laugh and play. She envisioned people asking one another, “How are you?” without any compulsion to evade by answering, “Fine. I’m fine.” And, she added, “I could go with my children to the store and not have to be afraid that they would be arrested for being black.”

Porter was struck by the woman’s words—a vision of safety and belonging that is rarely voiced out loud. “As we’re engaging people, that dream is just under the surface,” says Porter. “When we touch on that, we touch on something very powerful: the core values…that go beyond political strife or individual experience. We can touch an aspirational world.”

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Trauma and ACEs missing in response to opioid crisis, says national organization

 

A policy brief issued in July by the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) forcefully develops the case for trauma-informed approaches to address the opioid crisis—to prevent and treat addiction—based on strong evidence that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at the root of the crisis. CTIPP is a national organization that advocates for trauma-informed prevention and treatment programs at the federal, state and local levels.

Successful strategies to attack the opioid epidemic must recognize the powerful correlation between ACEs and substance abuse demonstrated by the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study), according to CTIPP. While recognizing the complexity of addiction pathways and contributing factors such as job loss, CTIPP argues that understanding the role of ACEs and trauma in addiction is essential in developing effective strategies to prevent addiction and treat those already addicted.

The brief, “Trauma-Informed Approaches Need to be Part of a Comprehensive Strategy for Addressing the Opioid Epidemic“, describes the evidence showing a correlation between traumatic experiences, including the ACE Study and more recent studies that, for example, “demonstrate a clear dose response relationship between the number of trauma experiences and increased risk of prescription drug misuse in adults.”

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Putting Alaska Native hopes, voices at center of state’s ACEs movement

Lisa Wade is the Health, Education, and Social Services Director, tribal court judge, and elected tribal council member for the Alaska Native Village of Chickaloon.

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Before the Alaska Resilience Initiative could push forward on any of its goals—to grow a sustainable statewide network; to educate all Alaskans on brain development, adverse childhood experiences, and resilience-building; and to support organizational, policy and practice change to address trauma—its leaders had to start by listening.

Specifically, they had to listen to Alaska Native people.

Alaska Native people comprise nearly one-fifth of the state’s population, but historically their voices have been largely excluded from decision-making about social services, education and behavioral health.

That’s why Laura Norton-Cruz, program director of the Alaska Resilience Initiative, partnered with First Alaskans Institute and the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council in a May 2016 gathering that put Native perspectives, customs, history and hopes at the center.

That gathering of about 30 people “was setting a tone for the whole state that the voices of Alaska Native people matter in this process,” Norton-Cruz said. The goal was to seek input that could guide the Alaska Resilience Initiative, shape the curriculum for ACE/resilience trainers and frame a more inclusive and equitable approach to the work.

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Providers hope trauma legislation will help native children in foster care

By Jeremy Loudenback

Recent federal legislation put forward by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) proposes to address the issue of childhood trauma through the creation of a federal trauma task force.

The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act would gather federal officials and members of tribal agencies to create a set of best practices and training to help create a better way to identify and support children and families that have experienced trauma.

In North Dakota, the home state for co-sponsor Heitkamp, advocates are hoping that the bill can have an impact on addressing the needs of Native American children who disproportionately enter the state’s foster care system. According to one report, Native American youth deal with post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate of 22 percent, three times the national average and at the same level as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

At PATH North Dakota, a non-profit child and family services agency, a trauma-informed approach means helping Native American children address historical trauma, as well as contemporary adverse experiences faced by children in foster care.

Jodi Duttenhefer and Heather Simonich, operations directors at PATH, recently talked with The Chronicle of Social Change about the new legislation, the importance of collecting data on the adverse childhood experiences of youth in its treatment foster care program and how the tribal community at Standing Rock is thinking about child trauma.

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