We do not kill rape and abuse victims in this culture, but we know how to respond with such psychological abuse, coercion, victim blaming, and failure to protect the victim from further harm we can make them kill themselves.
Right now, I am enraged at every person who abused and failed in the responses to 5 particular women whose suicides were directly linked to the abuse and violence they faced and the utter failure with which institutions, families, schools, communities, law enforcement, medical professionals, mental health professionals, and our society responded.
Multiple of the women I am referencing were at some point labeled as having borderline personality disorder. Perhaps the most stigmatized diagnosis there is, where studies have found patients are treated with much more cruelty violence and hostility from mental health providers who tend to use adjectives like “manipulative” “angry” and “difficult” to describe the mostly women who are given this diagnosis. Almost all people given this diagnosis have abuse histories, and in fact the exact same criteria that are used to diagnose borderline personality disorder were reconceptualized decades ago as a different diagnosis, complex post traumatic stress disorder, an expected reaction to in particular long term, repeated, chronic, or captivity based abuse. Or alternatively as developmental trauma disorder. Borderline personality disorder is tied as the highest suicide rate of any DSM diagnosis. Between one in eight and one in ten people with the diagnosis end their own life, while one study average number of suicide attempts for people with this diagnosis is three. For perspective, that means that the suffering that can arise out of this type of trauma can make you at least almost 800 times more likely to kill yourself than the average American, where the suicide rate for 2012 was 1 in 7,936.
A few years ago major news outlets were starting to report on the crisis of military sexual assault, and many articles interviewed women who after reporting rape by their “comrades” were dishonorably discharged from the military, losing all benefits and told they would have to pay for their basic training because they were suddenly diagnosed with with borderline personality disorder and told their “pre existing condition” disqualified them.
I am an abuse survivor.
The first time I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder was in an adolescent inpatient unit at age 15 by a psychiatrist who sexually harassed me, and made his diagnosis after sexually assaulting an intern in front of me. Because I was speaking to my experiences of abuse, and resisted his sexual harassment, I was informed, by someone simultaneously sexually assaulting someone in front of me, that my personality, who I am as a human being, is a pervasive disease.
In the past few years there has been a surge of rapes at schools and on campuses that are video taped on smart phones. An unbelievable further violation, you would think these cases could not be more clear. There is literally video evidence. In one of the deaths I am enraged about, it was suggested repeatedly the victim was lying about or wrongly remembering the rape because while intoxicated and in the dark she believed only one person raped her. In fact a video clearly displayed multiple people raped her. Because her memory deviated from the video tape it was repeatedly suggested she was making it up. By some magic leaps of logic, because the video tape was actually more violent than her memory, then it no longer can possibly Be true. She killed herself while in a residential program under the care of a psychiatrist who is considered an international expert on borderline personality disorder in adolescents, a man who repeatedly failed to report child abuse of his underage clients whose parents were paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can only imagine what victim blaming and dismissal of her assaults she may have faced from him as so many other clients faced. Her school utterly failed her. At the time of her death, she was 20 years old.
I demand a world in which rape does not happen. I demand a world in which when violence does happen, even in supposedly progressive countries on feminist issues, it is not a potential death sentence for a victim who is the one put on trial, picked apart, interrogated, dismissed, invalidated, gaslighted, Pathologized, silenced, ignored, and threatened. Paychiatry is not the answer for healing from violence. People who are labeled with psychiatric disorders are legally deprived of countless human rights, and are abused and tortured, as defined by the United Nations, legally justified as “in the best interest” of the suffering individual. Let me tell you, abuse, and human rights deprivation in hospitals is not the cure for suffering after experiencing abuse and violence.
Of any type of common trauma, rape is the type of trauma most likely to lead to PTSD . Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. And research has identified key factors that can protect someone from developing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, etc. those protective factors include the victim not feeling they are to blame, the victim having a strong support network, the victim not being blamed or dismissed after the trauma among other factors. Failures of support network to respond appropriately and adequately not only greatly increases the likelihood a survivor will develop post traumatic stress, but can actually be the cause of its own separate full fledged PTSD- with flashbacks, night mares, hypervigilence of its own.
Borderline personality disorder is a way to tell victims, the problem is not the abuse, the problem is you as a human being are a sickness. Many experts of the disorder instead of being honest about the fact that childhood abuse is a common risk factor use the phrase that the child was raised in an “invalidating environment”, an environment “mismatched to the child’s temperament”. Abuse is matched to no ones temperament. To suggest in coded language a child affected by abuse is overly needy is another form of victim blaming. The diagnosis should No longer be used.
To be clear, By saying borderline personality disorder should no longer be used am not suggesting that no people have the experiences or suffering that are called the “symptoms” of it. I am suggesting we stop pathologizing these understandable responses to trauma as a way to silence victims and ensure they are further mistreated and disbelieved, sentencing them to further trauma, including certainly more hostility in the mental health system, shoving them further towards death. It is reasonable to be traumatized by trauma. Just like it is reasonable to mourn for more than two weeks after the death of someone close to you, and the idea that is a brain disease or mental illness is fucking absurd.
The answers of first steps to decrease the suicide rate of rape victims is shockingly simple.
1. Stop raping and abusing people.
2. realize the failures and further violence and deprivation of human rights, respect, and dignity perpetrated by and in
The systems that supposedly exist to help victims: including law enforcement, school administrations, child protective services, and psychiatry. Do not demand victims utilize these systems. reform and hold the systems and individuals accountable. Take reports of abuse and violence perpetrated by employees of these systems extraordinarily seriously.
3. Stand by victims. 100%, always. Stop communicating with their perpetrator, even if that person is your family member, your co worker, a fellow activist, your friend. Believe victims. Empower victims. Always respect and follow their wishes. Respect their confidentiality. Learn how to respond appropriately to disclosures of violence. Learn how to verbally offer empathy. Do Not ask for details, but offer space for the victim to discuss them. Respect their boundaries, their physical space, their needs. Offer emotional and practical support in the aftermath. realize that it is common for recovery to not be quick. Do not minimize the violence, tell the victims they are over reacting , or to hurry up and heal. Do not demand the victim call themselves a survivor. Recognize that suffering in the aftermath of such an atrocious act is a completely expected response.
4. Create alternatives to psychiatry that are non violent, non coercive, non oppressive, mutual, voluntary, free, accessible. Build peer respites. Create healing homes. Start support groups. Do not believe the lies that violence in the psychiatric industrial complex is the answer for being traumatized by violence, especially when the victim already has a history of trauma or mistreatment from mental health treatment or health care, in institutions, or with authorities.
5. Support the efforts of the psychiatric survivor movement. Informed consent about medications. Abolish coerced and forced treatment. Support holistic and peer based alternatives. Stop pathologizing human experience with oppressive diagnostic categories.
Jennifer L Reimer
Jennifer has published one of the most important theses on this topic I have ever seen, titled “Borderline Personality Disorder and the Control of the Subversive Woman”. She died in April 2014. She was chronically ill, an abuse survivor, and struggling with anorexia, though the exact cause of death was not shared publicly or immediately clear. Her work is the most important radical mental health literature I have ever seen.
And her memory being preserved at:
Thank you Jennifer, for your work. May you rest in peace.
Karen, a survivor of abuse, and a psychiatric survivor ended her life in November 2014. She was 45 years old. She was a cinematographer who worked on films as well known as Into the Wild and Their Eyes Were Watching God. She participated in my first Zine, “depictions of self identified madness”. She was an incredible woman who just this past summer was raising funds to try to open a peer respite center that was trauma sensitive in the northwestern US. She is remembered in radical mental health communities for the incredible kindness she was always passing on to other people even despite the violence and cruelty with which the world constantly dealt her. Karen, I miss you dearly. I am so sorry for the ways the world hurt and failed you. May you rest in peace.
Her IMBD Profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0466374/
Sara, a survivor of abuse who was chronically ill, ended her life in December 2014. She was 28 years old. She was a political organizer remembered by those who knew her as someone who was incredibly intelligent, articulate, and passionate about the causes she cared about.
Her Blog: https://anotherhopeentirely.wordpress.com
Thank you Sara, for your work. I am so sorry for the ways the world hurt and failed you. May you rest in peace.
My heart is so heavy tonight. I am enraged, disgusted, and so deeply mourning. I will continue saying your names over and over, in the park, on the bus, in snow, under stars, fighting to make this a better world than the one you left behind.